Venus may be volcanically active, according to a new study published in Science Advances. This would make Venus the second planet with active volcanoes.
To verify Venutian volcanism, researchers from the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), analyzed data collected by the European Space Agency’s Venus Express Orbiter and conducted mineralogical experiments here on Earth.
“If Venus is indeed active today, it would make a great place to visit to better understand the interiors of planets,” says Dr. Justin Filiberto, the study’s lead author and a Universities Space Research Association (USRA) 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.”
The new research showed volcanoes on Venus may have erupted only several years ago. What’s even more interesting is that these volcanoes may still be actively spewing lava today.
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In the 1990s, NASA’s Magellan spacecraft revealed that volcanoes and lava flows cover the surface of Venus. In the early 2000s, the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Venus Express orbiter shed new light on volcanism on Venus by taking nighttime infrared readings of the planet’s surface. The researchers found the chemically altered minerals within lava flows there were quite young—certainly earlier than 2.5 million years. But scientists were never able to identify an exact age.
What the researchers did is they experimented with crystals of olivine, a mineral found in volcanic rock. They heated olivine in a furnace up to 1,650 degrees Fahrenheit for a month. Within days the olivine became coated with the reddish-black mineral hematite, which can make olivine more difficult to detect.
They further found that the Venus Express observations of this change in mineralogy would only take a few years to occur. Thus, the new results suggest that these lava flows on Venus are very young. This, in turn, would imply that Venus does indeed have active volcanoes.
Scientists have found active volcanism on other solar system bodies too. On Pluto, ice volcanoes (cryovolcanoes), could have erupted and sprayed liquid water over the surface of the planet which quickly froze in the chilling temperatures. Probes have also discovered white spots on the dwarf planet Ceres which may be evidence of ancient ice volcanoes. And Jupiter’s moon, Io, is a hotbed of volcanic activity with more than 150 observed active volcanoes.