Researchers poring over decades-old space data have found clear signs of recent volcanic activity on Venus. The findings were published in a journal Sciencereveal not only that the planet’s surface is actually a turbulent place, but offer insight into its geological past and future.
By any measure, Venus is a hellscape: pressure fractures, a toxic atmosphere, and surface temperatures hot enough to melt lead. It’s like a scene straight out of Dante Hell.
It’s the “favorite planet” of Robert Herrick, a planetary scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Despite all their animosity, Venus — the next closest planet — is really like Earth. So much so that Herrick calls our true brother in the solar world. He says a similitude, “What is going on in the interior is stirred up.”
“Other than Earth,” says Herrick, “it is the only planet that has real mountains and a huge variety of volcanoes.” These features include lava fields, channels carved out of molten rock, and hundreds, if not thousands, of volcanoes.
It is therefore clear that Venus is volcanically active, giving it a youthful (in geological terms) appearance. But it is not entirely clear how active it is.
“That could still mean the time between eruptions is months or years or tens of thousands of years,” says Herrick.
So he set out to test that narrow window of time by looking for evidence recent molar activity He turned to surface radar images collected by the Magellanic spacecraft in the early 1990s.
“Thirty years ago,” he says, “it wasn’t so easy to look around the grid and zoom in and out and in and out between different global crusts.” However, computer hardware and software improved substantially and thus Herrick was able to zoom in on the image.
“It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack without any assurance that it’s a needle,” he admits.
Herrick called his research around the highest volcano of Venus called Mount Maat, after the ancient Egyptian goddess of truth and justice. And after a couple of months he found something about the size of Australia.
It is clear on both sides of the black and white images for eight months except for the same spot on the northern side of the volcano. Each is about 15 or 20 miles. Herrick points to the pockmark at the bottom. It is a place where a volcano erupts, releasing lava, ash, and rock. But the shape of that vent differs between the two images.
“It’s changed a lot, and the thing has been made bigger, and it looks shorter,” he said. That is, within just eight months in 1991 (the same year that President George HW Bush declared victory over Iraq and Clarence Thomas confirmed the victory of the Supreme Court), Herrick speculates that a volcano erupted, forming a lava lake in the vent.
“Certainly, I got the luckiest shot and it seemed to be the only thing that happened on Venus in the last million years,” said Herrick. “But I think a reasonable interpretation suggests that Venus is relatively Earth-like in the frequency of volcanic eruptions,” similar to the likes of Hawaii and Iceland.
Unlike Earth, Venus does not have tectonic plates. So the researchers tried to work out how the planet’s geography has evolved over four and a half billion years and where it might be headed. Herrick and colleague Scott Hensley hope to help them find what’s right.
“It’s good to have visual confirmation of volcanic activity on Venus,” says Clara Sousa-Silva, an astrochemist at Bard College who was not involved in the research. “But since we have thought of this something, it is not a shame to leave this paper.”
However, Sousa-Silva says this confirmation of activity on the surface of Venus gives us a better understanding of what to expect on Venus. atmosphere.
“A planet that has a lot of volcanic activity,” he says, “has access to these extreme pressures and temperatures below the surface that can make really unusual molecules and other really difficult things.”
Much of NASA’s (and the public’s) recent attention has been directed to Mars; The space agency has landed five pirates on the dusty surface of the Red Planet since 1997.
But Herrick says that Earth’s resemblance to Mars is somewhat superficial, being mostly limited to surface features such as sand dunes, wastelands, and traces of what were once lakes and rivers.
Care has moved the winds, though. “Maybe a ride to the bottom of the bell,” Herrick says with a chuckle.
That’s why NASA has two missions for Friday in the works today, which will now be informed by Herrick’s findings. “We don’t just think it’s an active planet,” he said. “We know the planet is active – now.”
Herrick is working with NASA to develop an instrument for missions expected to monitor volcanic activity on Friday. He is now quite confident that the seismometer will do something that he once explained – just that the infernal planet survives long enough to make its measurements.
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