Japan's Venus Probe Goes Mysteriously Missing

Fading Out

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Akatsuki space probe — which is the sole ongoing mission to the planet Venus — may be on its last legs.

In an update on X, JAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science said that it lost contact with Akatsuki "after an operation in late April due to an extended period of low attitude stability control mode."

But it's not a lost cause yet, and the institute is "currently making efforts to reestablish communication with the spacecraft."

Should the probe remain silent, however, its loss will mean that humanity will be cut off from its sole source of up-close observations of the strange, hellish planet.

Twin Connection

Officially known as the Venus Climate Orbiter mission (PLANET-C), Akatsuki was launched by JAXA in 2010 and, after a few screw-ups, entered orbit around its destination planet in 2015.

Though its form is unassuming — essentially a tiny box no more than five feet in each direction — the sturdy little probe came stacked with five cameras which it used to tirelessly image the Venusian atmosphere.

Its contributions have been invaluable to astronomers, especially considering lengthy Venus missions are few and far between. Our most detailed images of its surface come from NASA's Magellan spacecraft from all the way back in the early 1990s, to put things in perspective.

It's not a very welcoming planet. The Venusian atmosphere is so thick with carbon dioxide that the pressures it creates can crush metal. Temperatures are hot enough to even melt some metals too, often exceeding 800 degrees Fahrenheit. And of course, there's its haze of corrosive clouds that make observing its surface extremely difficult. Even orbiting it can be dangerous.

But as hostile as the planet is to seemingly anything that gets near it, we can't help but be fascinated by it. It's our planet's 'twin,' with a similar size, mass, and composition — and it also happens to be right next door.

Greener Pastures

If JAXA's probe can't be recovered, it wouldn't come as an unexpected loss. Akatsuki has already long outlived its originally projected lifespan of 4.5 years.

Now, nearly a decade of faithful service later, no one can blame the poor thing for calling in a late retirement.

Still, it'll leave behind a large gap. NASA plans to launch two missions to Venus, DAVINCI and Veritas, but those aren't expected to take off any sooner than 2029 and 2031 respectively. One can only hope, then, that Akatsuki sticks around until there's a worthy successor.

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