Venus is still alive.
Scientists examine data sent home from NASA Magellan spaceship in the early 1990s say they discovered volcanic activity Venus. The discovery, announced in a paper published Wednesday (March 15), is based on changes in a vent near one of the planet’s largest volcanoes. Mate Mons.
“The location where we made the discovery is the most likely location where there should have been new volcanism,” Robert Herrick, a researcher at the University of Alaska’s Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, said on Wednesday (March 15). the 54th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC). ) in Texas and held virtually.
Related: Scientists welcome the “Decade of Venus” with 3 new missions on the way
Scientists have long known about lava flows on Venus from volcanoes that erupted a few million years ago. Although around 1,600 large volcanoes and nearly a million smaller volcanoes dominate the planet’s surface, it was unclear if any of them were still flaring up contested.
The latest finding is the first time scientists have found direct evidence of recent volcanic activity on the surface of Earth’s nearest neighbor. They believe such eruptions — less explosive than those on Earth — occur at least a few times a year, adding to the growing evidence that volcanoes play a major role layout the juvenile surface of the planet.
In the latest study, scientists analyzed two Magellan images taken eight months apart in 1991. In those eight months, they found that a volcanic vent measuring 0.7 square miles (2 square kilometers) “swelled considerably,” to about 1.5 square miles (4 square kilometers).
They saw that the shape of the vent had also changed: in the first image it was circular, while the second showed it kidney-shaped with a dark interior, evidence of “a volcano that erupted on the surface of Venus.” . Said Herrick during his presentation at LPSC. The dark spot is likely a lava lake filling the vent to its brim, he added.
With the limited data available, the team speculates that Venus’s high pressure and blistering temperatures make the lava more fluid and allow it to flow longer than on Earth.
Venus is mostly covered in volcanoes, so there are likely many more active ones waiting to be discovered. Herrick said he had stopped caring about the discovery, but “by no means is the potential search for new things with the Magellan data complete.”
The latest study covers just 1.5% of the planet, while about 40% of Magellan has been imaged twice, giving scientists plenty of radar images to sift through.
“There are still several Hawaiian-like volcanoes on Venus that I haven’t been able to search, so there’s a lot more work to be done there,” Herrick said.
Related: 10 Incredible Volcanoes In Our Solar System (Photos)
A discovery from 30-year-old data
The Magellan spacecraft arrived on Venus in 1990 and spent two years taking photos from orbit. During this time, the spacecraft revisited the same locations every eight months. Back then, the purpose of each visit wasn’t to look for changes on the surface like scientists do today, but to perform various other tasks so that the images ended up having different angles and heights, Herrick said. Both images related to the discovery could be seen as snaps from windows on different sides of an airplane, he added.
The first image – taken as if the vent was viewed from a window on the left side of the aircraft – shows the circular vent. The second image — clicked from a window on the right — shows a kidney-shaped opening with shorter, collapsed walls that are probably a few hundred feet deep. Herrick also spotted a brighter patch on the ground further down the hill, which he believes to be a new lava flow pouring out of the volcano.
Although the Magellanic images are 30 years old, Herrick attributed the timing of this discovery to recent improvements in planetary scientist software and hardware. Similar to Google EarthScientists can now easily download large datasets and zoom in and out of radar images in ways they could not do three decades ago.
Because Magellan’s images were clicked at different angles, Herrick and his team selected points on Venus’ surface that remained the same in both images and manipulated them to appear as if they were being viewed from above. The process, called orthocorrection, helps scientists transform raw images into a format suitable for modeling.
“We were keen to state that the difference we saw in the vent couldn’t possibly be due to simply looking at the same feature from different angles,” Herrick said during his presentation at the LPSC.
Is it really a volcano?
To confirm if what they saw was really volcanic activity, Herrick teamed up with Scott Hensley, a project scientist for two of NASA’s upcoming Venus missions.
“I was immediately cautiously optimistic and excited because it looked real,” Hensley said, adding that previous efforts looking for similar changes in the images have not yielded positive results. In addition, many features that did not change on Venus looked different in different Magellan images, thanks to different lighting and spacecraft angles.
“We wanted to be very careful here that we really have something,” said Hensley.
To rule out that the spacecraft angles themselves were responsible for the observed changes, Hensley used Magellan data on the vent’s shape, depth and other features to simulate hundreds of volcanic vents, 60 of which are sketched in the new paper (opens in new tab)which was published online in the journal Science on Wednesday.
“None of our simulations could mimic the kidney shape of the vent,” he said, adding that their simulations also showed no dark bottom in the vent Magellan discovered. “That led us to believe very strongly that we had a real change on the surface of Venus.”
“The Decade of Venus” will likely reveal more volcanic activity
In the 2030s, a fleet of spacecraft will visit the planet next door, including NASA VERITAS (or Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy) and DAVINCI (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry and Imaging) and Europa Introduce.
DAVINCI will send an atmospheric probe into the clouds of Venus, and VERITAS and EnVision will peer from orbit through the planet’s dense atmosphere, looking for tiny, “inch-sized changes” on the planet’s surface – much more than what scientists can do alone with Magellan’s data.
“Right now, Magellan is the state of the art,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, told reporters at the conference. “This is the highest resolution we have. We really need to bring VERITAS and EnVision to Venus over the next decade.”
DAVINCI is scheduled to take off in 2029. After a delay that delayed launch by three years, it’s VERITAS planned now launch between 2032 and 2034, closely followed by EnVision, which will fly between 2035 and 2039. Venusian scientists looking for signs of ongoing volcanic activity are extremely pleased that these new missions won’t have the one-way vision problem that Magellan has had. Future data will be much easier to work with, Hensley said.
“This is going to be a really exciting data set, and the entire Venus community can’t wait to get their hands on this data,” he said.
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