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A filtered image of Venus as seen by NASA's Galileo spacecraft. Photo: NASA/JPL

A privately funded mission to Venus expected to launch in 2023 could kick off a series of launches that could help reveal whether Earth's "evil twin" once hosted — or still hosts — life.

Why it matters: A controversial study published in 2020 suggests there might be phosphine — a possible sign of microbial life — in the clouds of Venus, bolstering the case to return to the world.

  • Right now, space missions are primarily funded by government agencies like NASA. Privately funded interplanetary missions could fundamentally change how science is done, opening the door to new avenues of exploration.

Details: The mission, which is being planned by scientists from MIT, Georgia Tech, Purdue University, Caltech and the Planetary Science Institute, will make use of a probe sent to space by a Rocket Lab spacecraft.

  • A new report from the team explains the probe will come equipped with a laser designed to help it figure out what kind of chemistry is happening in droplets in Venus' atmosphere during a three-minute flight through the planet's clouds.
  • "Fluorescence or impurities detected in the droplets could indicate something more interesting than sulfuric acid might be wafting around up there, and add ammunition to the idea that parts of Venus’ atmosphere might be habitable," MIT wrote in a news release.
  • That mission is expected to launch in 2023, with another, larger mission into Venus' atmosphere being planned for 2026 that will build on the results of this one.
  • The 2026 mission could then lead to another that will actually bring a sample of the world's atmosphere back to Earth.

The big picture: NASA is also setting its sights on Venus. The space agency recently greenlighted two major missions to the cloudy, hot planet to learn more about its potential for past and even current life.

Go deeper: The space industry's monumental 2021

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jan 11, 2022 - Science

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is here to last

The James Webb Space Telescope before launch. Photo: NASA/Goddard/Rebecca Roth

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is fully deployed in space, and it should be able to perform its science for decades to come.

Why it matters: The longer the JWST can perform its science, the more data it can gather about the evolution of the universe. The $10 billion space telescope is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been in space for more than 30 years.

Jan 11, 2022 - Science

NASA names new senior climate official

Katherine Calvin. Photo courtesy of NASA

NASA administrator Bill Nelson has appointed Katherine Calvin as the agency's new chief scientist and senior climate adviser.

Why it matters: These are two top science policy positions at NASA.

FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly COVID antibody treatments

A coldbox containing monoclonal antibody treatments at a Regeneron clinic in Pembroke Pines, Florida, in August. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The FDA said Monday it's limiting the use of two monoclonal antibody therapies as COVID-19 treatments because data indicates they're "highly unlikely" to be effective against the dominant Omicron variant.

Driving the news: The FDA revised the authorizations for Regeneron and Eli Lilly "to limit their use to only when the patient is likely to have been infected with or exposed to a variant that is susceptible to these treatments," per a statement from the agency.