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Finally: a Computer Fit for Venus

  • VOA News

Image courtesy of NASA shows the planet Venus transiting the Sun, June 5, 2012. One of the rarest astronomical events occurs when Venus passes directly between the sun and Earth, a transit that won't occur again until 2117.

Nobody has sent a spacecraft to land on Venus since 1985, mostly because anything that touches its surface fries in hardly more than one hour.

The most vulnerable are computer chips that fail at temperatures above 250 Celsius, while even the best insulation and cooling systems cannot cope for long with Venus' 470-degree surface temperature.

But scientists at NASA's Glenn Research Center now say it will soon be possible to resume explorations, thanks to their new, ceramic-packaged chip.

The silicon carbide-based microprocessor is able to withstand the hellish temperature as well as the crushing atmospheric pressure on Venus' surface, about 90 times that of Earth.

Placed in a chamber called Glenn Extreme Environments Rig that simulated conditions on the planet, the chip survived for more than 21 days, which would be long enough to conduct a decent scientific mission.

Scientists say designing the mechanical parts of a lander still pose quite a challenge, but the technology could be ready for another Venus mission by 2023.

A silicon carbide ring oscillator glowing red hot (400C+) at NASA Glenn.
A silicon carbide ring oscillator glowing red hot (400C+) at NASA Glenn.

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