Earth's surface undergoes continuous transformation due to shifting plates, leading to mountain formation and volcanism. Venus, on the other hand, while home to more volcanoes than any other planet in the solar system, sports a single continuous surface plate.
A team led by Southwest Research Institute has proposed a model for Venus’ early impact history, explaining how high-energy collisions may have ignited Venus’ volcanic activity. This offers insights into the planet’s youthful surface, despite its absence of plate tectonics. The team’s comparison of the early collision histories of Earth and Venus suggests Venus likely endured higher-energy impacts, resulting in a superheated core that spurred prolonged volcanism and planetary resurfacing.
“One puzzling fact about the inner solar system is the stark contrast in the functioning of Earth and Venus, despite their similar size and density,” explained Dr. Simone Marchi, the study’s lead author. “These differences significantly affect the processes that drive planetary material movement.”
How High-Energy Collisions Ignited Venus’ Volcanic Activity
Earth’s surface undergoes continuous transformation due to shifting plates, leading to mountain formation and volcanism. Venus, on the other hand, while home to more volcanoes than any other planet in the solar system, sports a single continuous surface plate. Over 80,000 volcanoes, 60 times the number found on Earth, have significantly contributed to the renewal of Venus’ surface with lava flows, an occurrence possibly still ongoing today.
“Our latest models suggest that prolonged volcanism on Venus, driven by early, high-energy collisions, provides a plausible explanation for its young surface age,” said Professor Jun Korenaga, a co-author from Yale University. “This extensive volcanic activity is powered by a superheated core, triggering substantial internal melting.”
Planetary Formation and Collisional Growth
Earth and Venus, having formed in the same region of the solar system, owe their genesis to solid materials gradually amalgamating to form the two rocky planets. However, their differing proximity to the sun influenced their impact histories, particularly the number and severity of these events.
“Higher impact velocities result in more silicate melting, possibly affecting up to 82% of Venus’ mantle,” said Dr. Raluca Rufu, a Sagan Fellow and SwRI co-author. “This results in a molten mantle and a superheated core.”
Implications for Geophysical Evolution
If the impacts on Venus were indeed of significantly higher velocity than on Earth, even a few major impacts could have led to drastically different outcomes, with far-reaching consequences for Venus’ long-term evolution. The team’s expertise in large-scale collision modeling and geodynamic processes played a critical role in this assessment.
The timing of these revelations is fortuitous as NASA committed to two new Venus missions, VERITAS and DAVINCI, in 2021, while the European Space Agency is planning one named EnVision. “This surge in interest in Venus could synergize with the upcoming missions and their data could help validate our findings,” Marchi added.
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