We’ve Just Made a Stumping Discovery on Venus

Venus has several times as many volcanoes as Earth, and it has 167 large volcanoes that are over 100 km (62 mi) across.

Astronomers have made a stumping discovery on Venus. A new research paper suggests experts have found the very first evidence that Venus may actually be home to active volcanoes.

Much of the Venusian surface seems to have been formed by volcanic activity. Astronomers argue that Venus has several times as many volcanoes as Earth, and it has 167 large volcanoes that are over 100 km (62 mi) across.

The lava flows located on Venus may be only a few years old, which suggests that Earth’s asphyxiating neighboring planet could be volcanically active today.

“If Venus is indeed active today, it would make a great place to visit to better understand the interiors of planets,” explained Dr. Justin Filiberto, the study’s lead author and a Universities Space Research Association staff scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI).

“For example, we could study how planets cool and why the Earth and Venus have active volcanism, but Mars does not. Future missions should be able to see these flows and changes in the surface and provide concrete evidence of its activity.”

Back in the 1990s, radar Imaging from the Magellan spacecraft showed that Venus was a world of volcanoes as well as extensive lava flows.

Images of Venus taken with Akatsuki's UVI camera. Japan’s Akatsuki orbiter swings far from Venus on each 10-day orbit and watches the clouds move through cameras that see in ultraviolet, visible, and infrared wavelengths. Image Credit: JAXA/ISAS/DARTS/Damia Bouic.
Images of Venus taken with Akatsuki’s UVI camera. Japan’s Akatsuki orbiter swings far from Venus on each 10-day orbit and watches the clouds move through cameras that see in ultraviolet, visible, and infrared wavelengths. Image Credit: JAXA/ISAS/DARTS/Damia Bouic.

New data gathered in the 2000s by the Venus Express Orbiter from the European Space Agency gathered new information on the volcanoes on Venus by measuring the amount of infrared light that was being emitted from the surface of the planet both during day and night time.

The combination of data made it possible for experts to identify fresh versus altered lava flows on the surface of the planet. Despite this, until recently experts did not know the ages of lava eruptions and volcanos on Venus since the alteration rate of fresh lava was not well constrained.

To get to the bottom of this, Dr. Justin Filiberto and his team  recreated the warm caustic atmosphere of Venus in the laboratory to investigate how the Venusian minerals observed over time react and change.

Their experimental results showed that once it exploded on the surface, a mineral-rich in basalt, olivine, reacts quickly with the atmosphere and in a matter of weeks it is coated with iron oxide minerals: magnetite and hematite.

They further discovered that the Venus Express measurements of this change in mineralogy would only take a few years to occur.

Therefore, the new results by Filiberto and coauthors suggest that the lava flows on Venus are very young, which would indicate that Venus does indeed have active volcanoes even today, to the surprise of astronomers.

Venus orbits the Sun every 224.7 Earth days and has a rotation period of 243 Earth days. Venus takes longer to rotate about its axis than any planet in the Solar System and rotates in the opposite direction to all planets but Uranus.

Venus, as well as the first planet near the Sun (Mercury), are the only planets in the solar system without any known satellites.

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