This week the European Space Agency has said that the Venus Express spacecraft is now out of control and has gone “gently into the night.”
Venus Express is one of my favourite little models to take to schools and talk about. I was nice to know that it was still up there orbiting Venus at the time, but not any more.
The spacecraft was launched in 2005 and took station around its namesake four months later to map out the planet’s weather systems. During the past eight years the craft has sent back images from one of the more bizarre atmospheres in the Solar System, and caused head-scratching with the discovery that Venus is slowing down.
The probe’s weather cameras have shown us the twin eyes of a constant 2,000 mile-wide storm that rages the South Pole of Venus, and its atmospheric testing equipment found evidence that the planet could once have had significant quantities of water and the materials for life as we know it.
That seems impossible now. The surface of the planet is a toasty 467°C (872°F), with light showers of sulfuric acid and clouds of sulfur dioxide floating in the lower atmosphere. Wind speeds are a brisk couple of hundred miles an hour, and Venus Express found that huge thunder and lightning storms also add to the hellishness.
The photo below shows Venus Express in an EADS Astrium (Now Airbus Defence and Space) clean room.
This little probe is now scattered on the surface of Venus, but its discoveries will live on.