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Venus turns out to be a hotbed of volcanic activity

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Even as you read these words, magma may be bubbling and boiling beneath the surface of Venus and possibly erupting. A new analysis of data collected by the Magellan orbiter over just eight months in the early 1990s shows changes to the surface of Venus that can best be attributed to volcanism that occurred during the Magellan mission, astronomers have determined.


This is the latest in a series of similar findings, suggesting that volcanic activity not only continues but is widespread on Venus.

This is an important result. This means that any observations we make of Earth’s neighbor and close twin must take into account how volcanism might shape Venus’ surface and atmosphere, including the detection of phosphine gas interpreted as a potential biosignature as early as 2020. This result also has implications when considering the evolution of Venus.

A team led by geologist Davide Sulcanese of Annunzio University in Italy found that Venus had a volcanic output similar to Earth during the last 180 million years; Not only is this much higher than anyone expected, but it could also help scientists understand its history. .

The researchers found that backscatter, or radar backscatter, varied over time in two different volcanic regions as Magellan flew overhead.

“We suggest that these changes can most plausibly be explained as evidence of new lava flows associated with volcanic activity that occurred during the Magellan spacecraft’s synthetic aperture radar mapping mission,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

“This study provides further evidence supporting a geologically active Venus.”

Changes in radar backscatter on the western flank of Sif Mons

Venus, for all its relative closeness to Earth, remains poorly studied. We know a few things about it; Its size, mass, and mineral composition are similar to Earth, but are otherwise very different.

The temperature and pressure on its surface are approximately 30 and 90 times higher than those of the Earth, respectively. And it’s suffocated by a thick atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide that rains sulfuric acid onto the ground.

Due to these conditions, Venus, like Mars, is not suitable for research, and it is very difficult to see what is happening on the surface due to its thick atmosphere. And there is another problem. Very few dedicated probes have been sent to Venus, which means we don’t have a lot of data from orbit. But while Magellan orbited Venus from 1990 to 1994, it was equipped with a radar that could penetrate the cloud layer and map the surface.

Thirty years later, it’s still the best information we have, and it wasn’t until last year that scientists discovered they had found a new treasure in this treasure chest. For eight months in 1991, the volcanic vent changed shape; This indicates continuous volcanic activity.

Examining a wide range of Magellanic data, Sulcanese found further evidence of changes occurring in two different regions between 1990 and 1992. On the slopes of a shield volcano called Sif Mons and a large volcanic plain called Planitia Niobe, the way radar waves are reflected or backscattered from the surface has changed dramatically.

The researchers conducted a detailed analysis of these changes and ruled out alternative explanations, such as atmospheric effects, image artifacts, or a change in viewing angle. This allowed them to determine that the most likely cause was a change in the shape of the surface due to lava flows. With this information in hand, researchers began to calculate the volume of volcanic emissions. They found that Sif Mons had a flow rate of 25.2 and Planitia Niobe had a flow rate of 37.8 cubic kilometers per year.

Over the past 180 million years, the average volcanic flow rate on Earth is estimated to be 26-34 cubic kilometers per year. This suggests that Venus’ volcanic power may be on par with that predicted for Earth.

Last year, scientists suggested that Venus could experience at least a few volcanic eruptions per year. This new result significantly supports these findings. But we won’t know for sure until we get back there and take a good, long, hard look at Venus.

“In our analysis, we identified strong signatures of lava flows associated with ongoing volcanism in two different regions of Venus,” the researchers wrote. “These discoveries underscore the importance of continuing to explore Venus.”

Source: Port Altele

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