The countdown is underway for the European Space Agency’s mission to study Venus. The Venus Express probe will be launched from the Baikonour cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. he planet is considered to be Earth’s twin because of its size, but all similarities end there. On Venus, ground temperatures reach nearly 500 degrees Celsius, while the upper atmosphere is close to minus 200 at night.It will take the probe just over five months to reach its destination. Once there it will orbit the planet to study its atmosphere, investigate its surface and try to understand its dynamics. We know already that Venus’ atmosphere is composed essentially of carbon dioxide and that its clouds contain droplets of sulphuric acid. Mission coordinator, Marcello Coradini, says a study of Venus may reveal what could happen here if global warming continues unabated. “If you let all the oceans evaporate on our own planet because of greenhouse effects that would transform our planet like Venus,” he said. The spacecraft itself is a box shaped platform carrying the flight, communication and power systems, fuel and scientific instruments. In orbit, with its solar array extended, it will span eight metres. The mission is due to last for two complete planetary revolutions – that means about 500 Earth days because Venus’ slow rotation around the sun means a day there is longer than a year here.