Could Venus be Volcanically Active? Upcoming Missions Aim to Find Out
Is Volcanic Activity Present on Venus? A Potential Solution May be Found Through a Different Approach
Venus may be volcanically active after all. A new research paper suggests that Earth's sister planet is currently experiencing eruptions and lava flows. In the next decade, a fleet of spacecraft will visit the planet to help answer this question. NASA's VERITAS satellite and Europe's EnVision orbiter are expected to arrive in 2031. VERITAS will map the entire planet from space, and EnVision will take high-resolution satellite images of targeted regions.
In 1991, NASA’s Magellan probe mapped the surface of Venus in three dimensions using radar. Scientists observed the planet riddled with volcanoes, but it was impossible to tell whether they were active or relics from the past. Robert Herrick, a planetary scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Scott Hensley, a radar scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, combed through the immense data set for surface changes in areas suspected to have ongoing volcanic activity.
Herrick and Hensley discovered a nearly 1-square-mile volcanic vent that changed in shape and grew over eight months in 1991. Earth's surface can undergo drastic changes due to volcanic activity, either through an eruption at the vent or the shifting of magma below the vent, resulting in the collapse of the vent walls and an increase in the vent's size.
The researchers caution that a nonvolcanic, earthquake-induced collapse of the vent's walls could be the cause of the expansion. It is noted, however, that when a vent collapses of a similar size to those on Earth's volcanoes, a volcanic eruption nearby is always present; the magma is withdrawn from the vent because it is being redirected elsewhere.
Prof. Herrick noted that Ozza and Maat Mons are comparable in volume to Earth's largest volcanoes but have lower slopes and thus are more spread out. The vent at Maat Mons has been expanded, signaling volcanic activity.
The researchers hope that upcoming missions to Venus, such as the European Space Agency’s EnVision and NASA’s VERITAS satellites, will help answer questions about the extent and nature of Venus’ volcanism. VERITAS will use radar to map the planet’s surface and interior, as well as spectroscopy to analyse gases in its atmosphere.
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