On Our Sister Planet, the First Direct Evidence of Eruptions

Evidence suggests Venus is volcanically active 'right now'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 21, 2023 11:40 AM CDT
Updated Mar 25, 2023 12:50 PM CDT
Evidence Suggests Venus Is Volcanically Active 'Right Now'
This file photo shows Venus made with data from the Magellan spacecraft and Pioneer Venus Orbiter.   (NASA/JPL-Caltech FILE via AP)

The second rock from the sun is much like the third, at least in terms of volcanic activity. "It's an active planet—right now," says Robert Herrick, a planetary scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who's found evidence that volcanic eruptions are indeed occurring on our "hellscape" sister planet, per NPR. Scientists have long suspected Venus is volcanically active because of the "huge variety of volcanic features," from lava fields to hundreds or possibly thousands of volcanoes, Herrick tells the outlet. But the frequency of eruptions has remained a mystery. As Herrick notes, "the time between eruptions could be months, years, or tens of thousands of years."

With a new analysis of decades-old spacecraft data, he's ruled out that latter option. In surveying radar images of a huge volcanic area of Venus, which the Magellan spacecraft collected eight months apart in 1991, Herrick discovered evidence that Venus' highest volcano, Maat Mons, erupted that very year. He keyed in on imagery of a volcanic vent that looked to have changed shape from February 1991 to October of that year. What was once an almost perfectly circular mass, about 0.8 square miles, had doubled in size and now resembled a kidney bean, New Atlas reports. It also became shallower. In Herrick's view, Maat Mons erupted, causing a lava lake to form within the vent, per NPR.

"The most likely scenario is that volcanic activity occurred on Venus' surface during Magellan's mission," Scott Hensley, co-author of the study published Wednesday in Science, tells New Atlas. "Of course, I could have gotten very lucky and seen the only thing that happened in the last million years on Venus," adds co-author Herrick, per NPR. "But I think the reasonable interpretation suggests that Venus is relatively Earth-like in the frequency of volcanic eruptions." There are about 50 eruptions in an average year on Earth, per the Conversation. Herrick is now working with NASA to develop an instrument to monitor volcanic activity on Venus during upcoming missions to the planet, per NPR. (More Venus stories.)

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