New research suggests that the Earth’s sister planet Venus has active volcanoes. The study published in Science Advances shows that lava flows on Venus may be only a few years old, suggesting that Venus could be volcanically active today, making it the only planet in our solar system, other than Earth, with recent eruptions.
In the 1990s, data from the Magellan spacecraft revealed that Venus is a world of volcanoes and extensive lava flows but we did not know whether this volcanic activity was ancient or recent. The new research led by Universities Space Research Association (USRA) has used data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Venus Express orbiter to confirm that the lava flows are recent and Venus could have currently active volcanoes.
“If Venus is indeed active today, it would make a great place to visit to better understand the interiors of planets,” Dr Justin Filiberto, the study’s lead author and a USRA staff scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) said in a statement.
“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,” he added.
The Visible Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) on the Venus Express orbiter has measured the amount of infrared light emitted from part of Venus’ surface during its nighttime, shedding new light on volcanism on the planet. This allowed scientists to differentiate the fresh lava flows on the surface of Venus from the older ones.
Earlier, the ages of lava eruptions and volcanoes on Venus could not be identified because the alteration rate of fresh lava was not well constrained.
Filiberto and his team recreated the hot caustic atmosphere of Venus in the laboratory to investigate how the observed Venusian minerals would react and change over time. Their experiment showed that an abundant mineral in basalt — olivine — reacts rapidly with the atmosphere and within weeks becomes coated with the iron oxide minerals– magnetite and hematite.
The USRA team also found that the observations of this change in mineralogy by Venus Express would only take a few years to occur. Thus, the new results suggest that these lava flows on Venus are very young, which in turn would imply that Venus does indeed have active volcanoes.