Venus’ ancient surface was littered with active volcanoes. These volcanoes helped shape the planet’s surface over the course of millions of years. Yesterday, an international team of scientists announced they have found present-day evidence of active volcanism on Venus.
“This is a major finding that helps us understand the evolution of planets like our own,” says James W. Head, a geologist at Brown University.
Scientists were pouring over data from the ESA’s Venus Express mission when they noticed spikes in temperature at several locations on the planet’s surface. These hotspots didn’t last long. Each temperature spike lasted a couple of days before fading away.
What’s causing the temperature spikes? Scientists are pointing towards active lava flows on the surface.
Why lava flows?
These were not small temperature spikes. The temperature soared several hundred degrees in hotspots ranging from 1 square kilometer to over 200 kilometers.
The hotspots are grouped together in a large rift zone called Ganiki Chasma. Rift zones like Ganiki Chasma form when internal forces stretch the crust, and hot magma rises toward the surface. If there was going to be active volcanic activity on Venus, this is the area you would see it in.
You can see how an area dubbed ‘object A’ brightens between June 22 and June 24.
Evidence of volcanic activity piles up
Ganiki Chasma’s potential active lava flows supports the belief that Venus’ surface is seeing active volcanic activity. In 2010, infrared imaging from several volcanoes indicated potential lava flows. A few years later, scientists noted short-term spikes in sulfur dioxide in Venus’ upper atmosphere. Combine all of these findings and it’s highly likely Venus is volcanically active today.
“This discovery fits nicely with the emerging picture of very recent activity in Venus’ geologic history,” Head said. “These remarkable findings were the result of collaborations spanning many years and many political borders. They underscore the importance of international collaboration in exploring our solar system and understanding how it evolves.”
Check out the infographic from the ESA below.
The European Space Agency officially declared the end of Venus Express’ mission on December 16, 2014. While the spacecraft might not be active anymore, the scientific community is. Venus Express collected tons of data that continues to be sifted through.
During its mission, Venus Express detected evidence for past oceans and observed a massive double vortex at Venus’ south pole.
It also found that lightning strikes are extremely common on Venus, even more so than Earth.
Who knows what else Venus Express’ data will uncover. But, scientists can pretty much answer one question. “It looks like we can finally include Venus in the small club of volcanically active Solar System bodies,” says Håkan Svedhem, ESA’s Venus Express project scientist.
Image credits: NASA, ESA