Volcanic activity on Venus ‘could be similar to that on Earth’, according to new research

Scientists have found new evidence that volcanic activity is reshaping the surface of Venus, which could even indicate that its activity could rival that of today’s Earth.

In 2023, scientists analyzing archival data collected by NASA’s Magellan spacecraft made the historic announcement that they had found direct evidence of a volcanic eruption on Venus that occurred between February and October 1991. The explosive force of the event had reshaped the crater of the massive volcano . The Maat Mons volcano is located near the planet’s equator and is filled to the brim with burning lava.

The discovery was a milestone, because the evidence from Venus volcanoes helped scientists get a clearer picture of what was happening beneath the tortured planet’s surface, and allowed researchers to model its evolution and habitability more clearly. Now scientists poring over the Magellan data have found new evidence of volcanic activity on Venus, which could even indicate that the planet is host to a similar level of volcanism as today’s Earth.

To make their discovery, a team of researchers compared surface maps detailing the topography of two regions of the Venutian surface, as observed by NASA spacecraft between 1990 and 1992. The first location of interest was the area around the Sif Mons volcano , located in Venus’s southern hemisphere, while the second was an area known as Niobe Planitia, which is close to the planet’s equator.

Venus’s super-dense atmosphere simply prevents us from observing its surface, as you might with Earth. Instead, Magellan was able to create detailed maps of the planet’s topography by bouncing radar waves off the surface and listening for the resulting echoes, or “backscatter.” Using this method, scientists were able to gain a detailed understanding of Venus’s surface, providing in-depth information about its composition, altitude, and many other features.

“Using these maps as a guide, our results show that Venus may be much more volcanically active than previously thought,” explains Davide Sulcanese of d’Annunzio University in Pescara, Italy, who led the study published in the journal Nature Astronomy appears. “By analyzing the lava flows we observed at two locations on the planet, we found that volcanic activity on Venus could be similar to that on Earth.”

A comparison of the 1990 and 1992 radar maps suggests that over the two-year period huge rivers of lava had flowed across the alien landscape, later solidifying into fresh rocky deposits up to 20 meters deep in places.

“We interpret these signals as flows along slopes or volcanic plains that can diverge like a fluid around obstacles such as shield volcanoes,” said co-author Marco Mastrogiuseppe of Sapienza University in Rome. “After ruling out other possibilities, we confirmed that our best interpretation is that these are new lava flows.”

The researchers estimate that the lava flows from the two regions covered a total of 45 square kilometers and solidified to create enough rock to fill 90,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools during a two-year period between 1990 and 1992. These relatively newly transformed landscapes will be a tantalizing environment. target for scientists controlling the instruments of NASA’s upcoming Venus Emissivity Radio Mastrogiuseppe (VERITAS) mission, which will launch in the early 2030s to explore Earth’s neighbor.

“Our spacecraft will have a range of approaches for identifying surface changes that are much more comprehensive and of higher resolution than Magellan images,” explains Suzanne Smrekar, principal investigator of the VERITAS mission. “Evidence for activity, even in lower-resolution Magellan data, increases the potential to revolutionize our understanding of this enigmatic world.”

For more science news, check out our coverage of Neuralink’s first human patient and how he uses his brain-computer interface to play video games.

Anthony is a freelance contributor to science and video game news for IGN. He has more than eight years of experience covering groundbreaking developments in multiple scientific fields and has absolutely no time for your nonsense. Follow him on Twitter @BeardConGamer

Image credit: NASA

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