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