Venus has active volcanism. A new analysis of decades-old images reveals the first definitive sign of a volcanic eruption on planet Hell’s next door.
NASA’s Magellan spacecraft observed the mass of Mount Maat twice between 1990 and 1992. Sometime in the 243 Earth days between each observation, the volcanic vent appears to have shrunk from a 2.2-square-kilometer circle to a square blob. That change indicates that the eruption has occurred, the researchers report online on March 15 Science and at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.
Science News headlines in your inbox
Headlines and summaries of the latest Science News articles, delivered to your email inbox every Thursday.
Thank you, because I want up!
I’m having trouble subscribing to you.
“This world is not resting, it is not resting, it is not dead,” says planetary scientist Paul Byrne, of Washington University in St. Louis, who was not involved in the new work.
Venus is of the same size and mass as the Earth, so it must have the same amount of internal heat. And this heat must escape somehow. Scientists have long believed that Venus is volcanically active. “We recently never had something we can demonstrate. And now we do,” said Byrne. He believes that volcanoes on Venus can also erupt now.
“There’s no way you have a big planet that was doing something 30 years ago and stopped,” he said. “He’s definitely still active today.”
Scientist Robert Herrick spotted the planetary change after painstakingly poring over images of regions of Venus believed to be volcanically active. “This was a needle in the haystack with no guarantee that a needle existed,” said Herrick, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Many reports of eruptions on Venus have been reported over the decades.SN: 10/22/10; SN: 6/19/15; SN: 10/18/16). But it was difficult to say whether any particular change was due to the real geology of the earth, or whether it was merely an image. Many of the differences reported are due only to the different aspects of Magellan in successive orbits around Venus.
“Fundamentally, looking at these images is very hard,” says Radar scientist Scott Hensley of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “It’s not like people haven’t seen it [for active volcanism]. People have been searching for years.”
Subscribe to Science News
Journalistic knowledge delivered to your doorstep from a reliable source.
However, the vent change in the images alone was not enough to convince Hensley and Herrick that they were seeing evidence for active volcanism. So, Hensley ran more than 100 computer simulations of what Maat Magellan would have looked like under different imaging conditions. “I’ve never seen anyone like it [the 4-square-kilometer blob] in the second cycle,” Hensley says. He decided that the change was real.
The volcano’s change in shape suggests it probably didn’t explode like Mount St. Helena did in Washington in the 1980s, Byrne says (SN: 11/1/16). Instead, the eruption was more likely due to the long, slow drainage of lava from Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano in 2018, only a major one, he said (SN: 1/29/19).
The discovery gives scientists an idea of what to expect — and some new search ideas — when the comets return to Venus (SN: 6/2/21). In the late 2020s or early 2030s, NASA plans to launch TRUTH, a satellite that will map the entire planet from space, and EnVision, which will take high-resolution satellite images of targeted areas.
“The cold part means that Venus is now volcanically active. “We’re going to see what happens in these scenarios,” Herrick said in a March 15 interview. “We already had plans to try and look for new things and changes with time in both of those scenarios … now we know that doing that is a valuable thing.”
This work is tremendous, said planetary scientist Darby Dyar of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Ma., who was not involved in the new work. “Everyone in this room must be jumping through the lines that were in sight” in the images from the upcoming missions.
#volcano #Venus #spotted #erupting #decadesold #images