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Research team finds active volcanoes on Venus – “revolutionizing understanding of this mysterious world”

Research team finds active volcanoes on Venus – “revolutionizing understanding of this mysterious world”

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A view of Venus, which today resembles a burning inferno – but which may have once had a temperate climate. © NASA/JPL

Hot, dry, high pressure – Venus is a hellish planet. It is fitting that there are apparently still active volcanoes on Earth's neighboring planet.

Pescara – Venus is Earth's neighboring planet and is very similar to it in some ways: the two planets are the same age and the same size and both are considered rocky planets. But then the similarities end. While Earth is a bluish-green planet full of water and life, Venus is a very uncomfortable place. The surface temperature is about 500°C, and the pressure is 90 times higher than on Earth. Venus has lost the water it once had, just like Earth.

As if that wasn't enough, Venus is surrounded by a layer of opaque clouds. It is about 20 kilometers thick and consists largely of sulfuric acid, but oxygen has also been found in it. There are many volcanoes on the surface of Venus. It was not clear for a long time whether it was still active or not, but scientists doubted it, because volcanic gases are present in the planet's atmosphere. However, a new study now clearly proves it: Venus remains a volcanically active planet to this day.

Venus may be more volcanically active than previously thought

To make this discovery, an Italian research team looked at archival data from NASA's Magellan mission. The space probe orbited Venus from 1990 to 1994 and mapped 98% of the planet's surface, by far the most detailed map of Venus ever.

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“Using these maps, our results show that Venus may be more volcanically active than previously thought,” study leader Davide Solcanese (Annunzio University of Pescara) explains in a statement. notice. “By analyzing the lava flows we observed at two locations on the planet, we discovered that volcanic activity on Venus could be similar to volcanic activity on Earth.” In the specialized magazine Nature astronomy published.

It appears that volcanoes on Venus are still active

Early in 2023, another research team succeeded in discovering changes to a volcano in Magellan data. Specifically, it was observed how the vent of Maat Mons volcano on the equator of Venus changed over several records. This was the first direct evidence of a volcanic eruption on Venus. For the new study, the Italian research team examined the Sif Mons volcanoes and the western part of the Niobi Planitia region, where many volcanoes are located.

By comparing images from 1990 and 1992, the research team found that later images showed changes that they interpreted as new rock formation. It is likely solidified lava that formed during volcanic activity between 1990 and 1992. “We interpret these signals as flows along volcanic slopes or plains that can move like a fluid around obstacles such as shield volcanoes,” explains co-author Marco Mastrogissippi (Sapienza University of Rome). “After ruling out other possibilities, our best explanation is that these are new lava flows.”

Volcanic eruptions on Venus produced lava that solidified

According to the research team, the eruption of the Saif Mons volcano created an area of ​​30 square kilometers of new lava rocks. The Niobi Planitia eruption even produced 45 square kilometers of new lava rock. For comparison: The 2022 eruption of Mauna Loa in Hawaii produced more than 83 square kilometers of lava rock.

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A computer-generated 3D model of the surface of Venus shows the Sif Mons volcano, where an Italian research team has discovered new lava.
A computer-generated 3D model of the surface of Venus shows the Sif Mons volcano, where an Italian research team has discovered new lava. © NASA/JPL, Caltech

“This exciting work provides another example of volcanic changes on Venus with new lava flows that mirror those done by Dr. Hensley,” confirms Scott Hensley, who participated in the 2023 Venus study. “This result, combined with the early detection of geological activity today, increases excitement in the planetary science community for future missions to Venus.”

NASA's new mission will explore Venus in more detail

In the coming years, NASA plans to send the “Veritas” mission to Venus to examine the planet in more detail. Susan Smrekar, principal investigator at Veritas, is pleased with the new research: “These new discoveries of recent volcanic activity on Venus by our international colleagues provide strong evidence of the types of regions we should target with Veritas when the spacecraft reaches Venus.”

Among other things, the space probe must be able to identify surface changes – and provide data with higher resolution than the old Magellan images. “Detecting activity, even in low-resolution Magellanic data, raises the potential to revolutionize our understanding of this mysterious world,” says Smrekar. (unpaid bill)