Venus, the second planet from the sun, is indeed a fascinating world that presents a stark contrast to Earth. While it shares some similarities with our planet, such as its size and composition, a recent study by WashU planetary scientists Paul Byrne and Rebecca Hahn has revealed just how volatile Venus is compared to Earth.
Their findings, published in JGR Planets, showcase the most comprehensive map of all volcanic edifices on Venus ever compiled, cataloguing a staggering 85,000 volcanoes across the planet at a global scale.
“It provides researchers with an enormously valuable database for understanding volcanism on that planet — a key planetary process, but for Venus is something about which we know very little, even though it’s a world about the same size as our own,” said Byrne, an associate professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.
This immense volcanic activity has shaped the landscape of Venus in unique ways, with lava flows and vast volcanic plains covering much of its surface. The atmosphere of Venus is also drastically different from that of Earth, with temperatures hot enough to melt lead and clouds made up of sulfuric acid.
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“This is one of the most exciting discoveries we’ve made for Venus — with data that are decades old!” Byrne said. “But there are still a huge number of questions we have for Venus that we can’t answer, for which we have to get into the clouds and onto the surface.”
The new volcanoes dataset is currently hosted at Washington University and is publicly available for other scientists to use.
With recent discoveries of active volcanism on Venus, it’s now more important than ever to understand the planet’s volcanism, a key planetary process that has been poorly studied until now. Byrne and Hahn’s new database will enable scientists to search for evidence of recent geological activity by analysing future data and comparing it with Magellan data.
And with the upcoming high-resolution radar images of Venus in the early 2030s by NASA and the European Space Agency, we can expect to uncover even more about Venus’ volcanic properties. Byrne and Hahn predict there are hundreds of thousands of additional geologic features that have some volcanic properties lurking on the surface of Venus.
The discovery of active volcanism on Venus is particularly exciting because it challenges previous assumptions about the planet. For a long time, scientists believed that Venus was a “dead” planet, with no geological activity. However, recent evidence suggests that this is not the case.
The fact that there are so many volcanoes on Venus raises questions about the planet’s geology and how it differs from Earth’s. For example, why are there relatively fewer volcanoes in the 20-100 km diameter range on Venus? How do the spatial distributions of Venus’ volcanoes compare to those on Earth? And what can we learn about the planet’s history from studying its volcanic features?
Byrne and Hahn’s new map of Venus’ volcanoes is an important step towards answering these questions. The map provides a valuable database for future research and will help scientists better understand the planet’s volcanic properties. It is also a testament to the power of modern technology and data analysis, which allows us to make new discoveries and gain new insights into our universe.
Venus is just getting started
The volcanic activity on Venus is one of many recent discoveries that have scientists excited about the misunderstood planet. In 2020, a team of scientists reported the detection of phosphine gas in the atmosphere of Venus. The discovery is noteworthy as phosphine is typically linked with biological organisms. However, scientists were quick to dispel rumours that the presence of phosphine could be considered evidence of extraterrestrial life being present.
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Furthermore, in 2015, scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA) discovered a massive atmospheric disturbance that stretched across the planet’s upper atmosphere, covering an area the size of the United States. The wave was so large that it took several days to cross the planet, and it moved faster than the speed of the planet’s rotation.
Gravity waves are a common phenomenon in the Earth’s atmosphere, but this was the first time they had been observed on another planet. The Venusian gravity wave was caused by air flowing over the mountainous terrain of the planet’s surface, and its size and speed were much larger than any gravity wave observed on Earth.
These recent discoveries on Venus are major breakthroughs in planetary science, and the new map of Venus’ volcanoes created by Byrne and Hahn is a significant contribution to our understanding of the planet. With new missions to Venus planned for the future, we can look forward to even more exciting discoveries and a deeper understanding of this enigmatic world.