A well-timed Venus flyby looks for signs of life in the clouds

Just weeks after the reported discovery of phosphine on Venus – a potential sign of life in the clouds above its hellish surface – a robot spacecraft will study the planet as it swings by on its exploration of the solar system.

The BepiColombo space probe’s flyby above Venus at two minutes before midnight ET Wednesday is a coincidence.

The “gravity slingshot” was planned years ago, long before astronomers detected traces of phosphine in the Venusian atmosphere.

But it’s the first spacecraft to get near Venus since the discovery – although probably not the last – and measure gases in the planet’s atmosphere.

“We will look at what we see in the data, and look for everything – the expected and the unexpected,” said Jörn Helbert of the German Aerospace Center’s Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin, who works on a BepiColombo instrument called the Mercury Radiometer and Thermal Infrared

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