Future Tech

Evidence mounts that Venus has multiple active volcanoes

Tan KW
Publish date: Wed, 29 May 2024, 10:09 PM
Tan KW
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Future Tech

New research on data collected in the 1990s shows that on Venus, volcanoes are likely to be both more active and widespread than scientists previously understood.

Evidence of until-now undiscovered volcanic lava flows in two different regions of Venus has been excavated from a treasure trove of old radar data collected by a now-dead NASA space probe.

Launched in May 1989, the Magellan probe became the first of its kind to image almost the entire surface of Venus (98 percent) using radar. The spacecraft no longer exists - it was crashed into the planet in 1994.

As The Register reported in March 2023, about 1,200 gigabits of data was transmitted back to Earth during the mission.

Researchers working on NASA's Veritas spacecraft, expected to launch within a decade to study Venus, decided to dig through a mountain of CD-ROMs containing archives of data taken from Magellan to study the planet's volcanic activity. The researchers used the data to model volcanic vent activity, which provided evidence of an active volcano on the second planet from the Sun.

The study inspired another researcher to do some more digging into the data. Davide Sulcanese - a post-doctoral researcher at Italy's Università d'Annunzio - and his colleagues analyzed two sets of Magellan radar data obtained in 1990 and 1992 to look for evidence of volcanic activity.

A paper [PDF] published in Nature Astronomy this week details how the researchers found variations in the radar backscatter from different volcanic-related flow features on the western flank of Sif Mons and in western Niobe Planitia, two areas where volcanic-related features are present.

After analyzing the various possible sources, the team suggested the best possible explanation was that these variations were caused by fresh lava flows.

"We suggest that these changes are most reasonably explained as evidence of new lava flows related to volcanic activities that took place during the Magellan spacecraft's mapping mission with its synthetic-aperture radar. This study provides further evidence in support of a currently geologically active Venus," they said in the paper.

The study also argues that present-day volcanic activity on Venus is widespread and comparable to that of Earth.

Despite the findings, the Veritas mission has been effectively frozen while NASA tries to find the budget. A request has been made for a launch before the end of the decade. ®



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