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Volcanos still rule the surface of Venus

Published Jul 20th, 2020 7:09PM EDT
venus volcanos
Image: NASA

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  • The surface of Venus is covered in coronae that are still active today.
  • Vast fields of lava may regularly erupt, spewing liquid rock over vast areas.
  • Previous models of Venus suggested it was far less active and had mostly cooled.

Earth is in a sweet spot when it comes to volcanic activity. We have enough to keep things interesting, but the surface of the planet is still perfectly liveable. Things are a lot different when we peer into space. When we look away from the Sun we find planets like Mars which are chilly and don’t have particularly active surfaces. On the other hand, planets like Venus that are closer to the Sun tend to have a lot more going on, and a new study explains that the planet is even more active than previously thought.

On Earth, the Ring of Fire encircles the Pacific Ocean. It’s a belt of high volcanic activity that is the result of many different trenches and faults where pressure deep within the Earth is often released. As it turns out, the same may be true in other worlds like Venus, even if they bare little resemblance to Earth.

Venus isn’t covered in volcanoes, but the piping-hot world still has a lot of volcanic activity happening on its surface. Massive coronae — large, open areas where lava cascades, forming round shapes that can be seen from space — and researchers are finding more and more of these features. In this latest round of research, a whopping 37 coronae were spotted and the researchers believe that these regions were active not long ago, hinting at a wealth of activity happening just beneath the planet’s surface.

This is a far cry from what scientists once thought about Venus, which was that it was warm but had lost enough of its heat that geothermal activity on its surface had all but stopped. The identification of what appear to be active, lava-filled pools on its surface suggests the opposite and offers a clue as to the processes that are still going on deep within the planet.

“This is the first time we are able to point to specific structures and say ‘Look, this is not an ancient volcano but one that is active today, dormant perhaps, but not dead,'” Laurent Montési, co-author of the study published in Nature Geoscience, said in a statement. “This study significantly changes the view of Venus from a mostly inactive planet to one whose interior is still churning and can feed many active volcanoes.”

Going forward, researchers seek to better understand the processes going on within Venus and draw links between that activity and the features we see on the surface. In fact, it might be possible to catch an eruption on the planet’s surface if we’re looking at the right place at the right time.