Venus is a fiery hell.Its surface temperature is hot enough to melt lead. its surface pressure, 75 times larger than Earth at sea level, enough to shatter even the hardest metal objects. Sulfuric acid rain falls from noxious clouds in the atmosphere and makes even the slightest glimpse of the sky suffocate.
In a typical infernal hellscape, you would expect to find lava, but today’s Venus seems to lack that element. Astronomers are certain that our twin planets have had volcanic activity in the past, but whether volcanoes still erupt and reshape the surface of Venus like Earth remains to be seen. I never agreed.
Two planetary scientists may now have discovered the first evidence of active Venus volcanoes lurking in 30-year-old radar scans from Mars. NASA’s Magellan spacecraft. Robert Herrick University of Alaska Fairbanks and Scott Hensley From NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, journal chemistry The new analysis has excited planetary scientists, many of whom are now awaiting future missions to continue volcano hunting.
“this [study] It is the first reported evidence of active volcanic activity on another planet. ” Derby DyerAn astronomer at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, he was not the author of this paper.
Dense clouds on Venus hide volcanic activity from orbiting spacecraft. Specially honed instruments can certainly dig beneath the clouds, fickle weather on the planet Probe life tends to be too short to fully explore the ground.of Soviet Venera lander In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, none survived longer than about two hours.
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Magellan changed that. Launched in 1989 and equipped with the best radar technology could offer at the time, Magellan mapped most of Venus to city block resolution.In probe charts, scientists found evidence Massive volcanoes, past lava flows and lava domes—but no smoking guns (or smoking calderas) of volcanic activity alive.
Before NASA crashed into Venus’ atmosphere, Magellan made three different passes to map the planet between 1990 and 1993, covering different chunks each time. In the process, the spacecraft scanned approximately 40% of the Earth multiple times. If Venus’ topography changed in the months between passes, scientists today can spot it by comparing different radar images and looking for differences.
But researchers in the early 1990s didn’t have the sophisticated software and image analysis tools that their peers have today. Back then, if you wanted to compare Magellan maps, you had to do it manually, comparing printouts with the naked eye. So Herrick and Hensley revisited Magellan’s data on more advanced computers. In addition to blurring, they found that the probe often scanned the same feature from different angles, making it difficult to distinguish real changes from things like shadows.
“Detecting changes in the Earth’s surface requires fairly large events that disturb an area of roughly one square kilometer or more,” says Hensley.
Eventually Herrick and Hensley found their definitive gun. Formerly known mountain named Maat MonsBetween a Magellan radar image taken in February 1991 and another taken about eight months later, the vent’s shape changed, suggesting that lava was oozing onto the nearby slopes. It looked like
To double check, Herrick and Hensley created simulations of volcanic vents based on the shape of the features discovered by Magellan. Their results matched what Magellan saw. That is, potential volcanoes in the process of erupting lava onto the surface of Venus.
In 2012, there is more evidence to back up their radical results. ESA’s Venus Express mission spotted surge in sulfur dioxide Some scientists attribute it to volcanic eruptions. In 2020, geologists will 37 spots where magma rises Venus’ mantle may still be touching its surface.But the evidence so far has been circumstantial, and astronomers say Never seen an active volcano In “Morning Star”.
Fortunately for Venus enthusiasts, we may soon be able to play with fresh data.of veritas space probePart of NASA’s follow-up to Magellan, was originally scheduled to launch in 2028, but funding issues have now pushed it back to the early 2030s. When it finally reaches Venus, the volcano is near the top of its tourist list.
“We look for [volcanoes] In two different ways,” said Dyar, who is also a VERITAS Associate Principal Scientist. Using a radar with 100 times the resolution of Magellan’s instrument, the rover will perform multiple flybys to remap the entire surface of Venus (from a city block he zooms in on a single building). Such). If volcanoes are erupting on Earth, VERITAS may help scientists discover changes imprinted in the terrain.
[Related: These scientists spent decades pushing NASA to go back to Venus]
In addition, VERITAS will probe Venus’ atmosphere for fluids that scientists call volatiles. This fluid is ejected when a volcano erupts. For example, water vapor is one of the most prominent volcanic volatiles. Phosphine, which drew whispers about life on Venus in 2020, also falls into this molecular category. (In fact, some experts have tried to explain its existence by volcanoes).
VERITAS isn’t the only mission slated to reach the Hell Twin on Earth within the next decade.of the European Space Agency Envision—Scheduled to launch in 2031—Maps the Earth just like VERITAS. higher resolution.
VERITAS and EnVision “have a much better ability to see changes over time in different ways during a mission,” says Herrick, who has been involved with both missions. The two will not only produce multiple high-resolution scans for scientists to compare to each other, but will also be able to match the results against antique maps of Magellan. Magellan’s antique map will make him 40 years old by the time it arrives.
“Once we get high-resolution images, I think we can see a lot of volcanic activity all over Venus,” says Dyar.