Astronomers find evidence of erupting volcanoes on Venus

Venus and the crescent moon an hour before sunrise on Thursday March 27, 2014. A new study shows that volcanoes may still be active on the planet. Stellarium

Go outside this Thursday at dawn and you’ll see Venus and the crescent moon together in the southeastern sky. A peaceful scene yes, but appearances can deceive.

Beneath Venus’ blanket of acid clouds, astronomers have detected what they believe are active volcanoes.

5-mile-high Maat Mons, the tallest volcano on the planet Venus is seen in this image made by radar with NASA’s Magellan spacecraft. The probe discovered relatively recent (10-20 million years) ash flows near the summit. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA

Scientists have identified over 1,600 volcanoes or volcanic features on Venus and clear signs of recent lava flows on its surface. Clearly, our sister planet has been volcanically active in the past. Something must be smoothing out Venus’ surface because it has only about 1,000 craters, a very small number compared to other planets. Are volcanoes still active today?

Planetary scientist Alexander Bazilevskiy, with the Max-Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany, and colleagues examined pictures taken by the orbiting Venus Express probe and looked for changes in the relative brightness of surface features.

Object “A” shows as a temporary hot spot on June 24, 2008 (middle frame) in the rift feature Ganiki Chasma on Venus. Credit: ESA / Alexander Bazilevskiy

They found four brief flashes of light in a relatively young rift zone known as Ganiki Chasma which was imaged 36 times by the orbiter.

Artist’s impression of an active volcano on Venus. Credit: ESA/AOES

“Venus might have ongoing volcanism,” said Bazilevskiy. The flashes, estimated to be between 980 degrees and 1,520 degrees Fahrenheit (526-826 C) are well above the planet’s normal broiling surface temperature of 800 F (426 C). The team believes the four hot spots, all located near the giant shield volcano Maat Mons, could indicate hot material at or just below the surface. They allow it may also be gas or a combination of both.

Photos of the barren, rocky, hot surface of Venus taken by the Russian landers Venera 14 (left) and Venera 13 and reprocessed by Don Mitchell.

Venus Express has also measured dramatic changes in the content of sulfur dioxide – a gas commonly spewed by active volcanoes – in the atmosphere since it began orbiting the planet in 2006. Since the chemical is normally disassembled by sunlight in a matter of days, something must be happening on the Venus’ surface to replenish it. This new study may prove to be the smoking caldera … er, gun to clinch the case.

Venus photographed by Mariner 10 through UV and orange filters. The planet is covered in perpetual clouds. Credit: NASA

The team continues to look for more evidence of volcanism on this most beautiful of planets. Click HERE to read more about their work.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

2 thoughts on “Astronomers find evidence of erupting volcanoes on Venus

  1. Venus’s beauty being only skin-deep… How are you doing Bob? Any signs of Spring in Minn yet!? Not much here in N.E.! :/ I was a “Minniedak” when in my A.F. days way back in the Late Seventies!! :o ) Grand Forks N.D. & East Grand Forks, Minn.

    • Hi Phil,
      The only real sign of spring has been the sunlight. It’s incredibly intense with all the snow that keeps on falling. Still have 3 feet in the front yard and the driveway banks are 5 feet high. Very winter-like weather with 4 below F and a wind last night. Saw some nice stuff in the scope though – Mars, a new supernova, etc. Winter and now spring observing’s tough with no where to set up for a dark sky except on roads. Still winter in the N.E.too?? Yikes. Memorable that’s for sure plus great x-c skiing opportunities!

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