Venus Still Has Active Volcanoes

March 19, 2014

By observing images of the rift zone named Ganiki Chasma on Venus, scientists have noticed four bright spots that strongly suggest our neighbouring planet still has active volcanoes.

Artist's impression of an active volcano on Venus.

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

By observing images of the rift zone named Ganiki Chasma on Venus, scientists have noticed four bright spots that strongly suggest our neighbouring planet still has active volcanoes.

Venus is the closest planet to Earth and very similar to our planet in mass and size, yet it is an inhospitable place with thick atmosphere that crushes our equipment as we send it to explore the planet's surface. Its atmosphere also creates greenhouse effect, which makes Venus surface temperatures higher than even Mercury's.

We have long thought that this thick atmosphere is the result of volcanoes that were extremely active in Venus's past, but new study based on images from Venus Express orbiter indicates there are still active volcanoes filling planet's atmosphere with carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide. They observed four bright spots in a rift zone named Ganiki Chasma.

The team of planet scientists, including Alexander Bazilevskiy, with the Max-Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Lindau, Germany, constructed mosaics from images taken by orbiter's Venus Monitoring Camera and then computed the relative surface brightness. They noticed that four bright spots in Ganiki Chasma stand out with temperatures between 530 and 830 degrees Celsius, which is above planets normal surface temperature of 430 degrees Celsius.

"Venus might have ongoing volcanism," said Bazilevskiy. "We were looking for these spots for several years [and] didn't find anything. Then we found something."

As it is to be expected from volcanoes, these spots are not permanent and chances of finding them were just about 8 percent, according to the team. All four of these bright spots are located near Maat Mons, a giant shield volcano that last erupted 10 million to 20 million years ago.

What exactly causes these spots, scientists are not sure. It could be 25 kilometer long lava flows, volcanic hot spot or a chain of cinder cones. Whatever it is, it strongly suggests volcanic activity in Ganiki Chasma and emboldened by the finding, team will search for more of these bright spots in other rift zones as well as analyze data from 20 years ago, collected by Magellan spacecraft.

If the volcanic activity is confirmed, it would have improve our understanding of not just Venus's atmosphere, but its interior and surface.

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