After decades of neglect, hellish and cloud-enveloped Venus—sometimes called Earth’s evil twin—is a world ready and waiting for renewed exploration.

That is the message from a new study released late last month from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with one important caveat: The best way to return to Venus, the study’s contributors argue, may be to fly our sister world’s surprisingly friendly skies. Despite surface temperatures and pressures that would melt metal and crush heavy machinery, conditions are far more clement—hospitable, even—higher in the planet’s atmosphere. Balloons, planes and other high-tech aerial platforms could take advantage of that benign environment to glean otherwise-inaccessible data about Venus’s atmospheric composition, circulation and even its prospects for life, says study lead James Cutts, a program manager in JPL’s Solar System Exploration Directorate. “What we’re talking about here is a platform that operates in a region of the Venusian atmosphere where the temperature is benign, ‘Earth-like’ in a word,” he tells Scientific American.

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