Venus is alive -- geologically speaking (w/ Video)

Apr 08, 2010
This figure shows the volcanic peak Idunn Mons (at 46°S, 214.5°E) in the Imdr Regio area of Venus. The topography derives from data obtained by NASA's Magellan spacecraft, with a vertical exaggeration of 30 times. Radar data (in brown) from Magellan has been draped on top of the topographic data. Bright areas are rough or have steep slopes. Dark areas are smooth. The colored overlay shows the heat patterns derived from surface brightness data collected by the visible and infrared thermal imaging spectrometer (VIRTIS) aboard ESA's Venus Express spacecraft. Temperature variations due to topography were removed. The brightness signals the composition of the minerals that have been changed due to lava flow. Red-orange is the warmest area and purple is the coolest. The warmest area is situated on the summit, which stands about 2.5 km above the plains, and on the bright flows that originate there. Idunn Mons has a diameter of about 200 km. The VIRTIS data was collected from May 2006 to the end of 2007. Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL

ESA's Venus Express has returned the clearest indication yet that Venus is still geologically active. Relatively young lava flows have been identified by the way they emit infrared radiation. The finding suggests the planet remains capable of volcanic eruptions.

It has long been recognised that there are simply not enough craters on . Something is wiping the planet's surface clean. That something is thought to be but the question is whether it happens quickly or slowly? Is there some sort of cataclysmic that resurfaces the entire planet with lava, or a gradual sequence of smaller volcanic eruptions? New results suggest the latter.

"Now we have strong evidence right at the surface for recent eruptions," says Sue Smrekar, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

That strong evidence comes in the form of compositional differences compared to the surrounding landscape in three volcanic regions. The data were collected by the Visible and Spectrometer (VIRTIS) on ESA's Venus Express spacecraft, which has been orbiting the planet since April 2006.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
This is the volcanic peak, Idunn Mons, (at 46°S, 214.5°E) in Imdr Regio. The background image is radar data from NASA's Magellan mission. Bright areas are either rough or have an eastward facing slope, or both. Dark areas are smooth. The radar data is draped on the Magellan topography, shown with a vertical exageration of 30 times. The summit stands about 2.5 km above the plains and has a diameter of ~200 km. The colored overlay shows the emissivity derived from ESA's VIRTIS surface brightness data, taken from Venus Express. The high emissivity area (shown in red and yellow) is centered on the summit and the bright flows that originate there. Credit: 2010 California Institute of Technology; NASA/JPL

VIRTIS records the brightness of surface rocks, providing an estimate of 'emissivity'. In 2008, Jörn Helbert and Nils Müller, Institute of Planetary Research, German Aerospace Center, Berlin and co-authors on this new work, published a map of the variation of infrared emissivity across the of Venus.

Dr Smrekar and her colleagues targeted three regions that geologically resemble Hawaii, well known for its active volcanism. They show that the regions on Venus have higher emissivities than their surroundings, indicating different compositions.

On Earth, react rapidly with oxygen and other elements in the atmosphere, changing their composition. On Venus, the process should be similar, though more intense because of the hotter, denser atmosphere, chiefly of carbon dioxide.

The researchers interpret the fact that the lava flows appear to have different compositions from their surroundings as being evidence of a lack of surface weathering, indicating that the flows erupted relatively recently. They estimate that the flows are possibly as geologically recent as 2 500 000 years - and likely much less, possibly even currently active. "This is a significant result," says Hľkan Svedhem, ESA Venus Express Project Scientist.

Whilst the gradual resurfacing scenario might not be the most spectacular, it does make Venus look a little more Earth-like.

"There are some intriguing models of how Venus could have completely covered itself in kilometres of volcanic lava in a short time, but they require that the interior of Venus behaves very differently from Earth. If volcanism is more gradual, this implies that the interior may behave more like Earth, though without plate tectonics," says Dr Smrekar.

The new results are published in the 8 April issue of Science.

Explore further: Bad weather delays SpaceX launch with 3-D printer

Related Stories

New map hints at Venus's wet, volcanic past (w/ Video)

Jul 14, 2009

( -- Venus Express has charted the first map of Venus's southern hemisphere at infrared wavelengths. The new map hints that our neighbouring world may once have been more Earth-like, with both, ...

Venus: Earth’s twin planet?

Nov 29, 2007

ESA’s Venus Express has revealed Venus as never before. For the first time, scientists are able to investigate from the top of its atmosphere, down nearly to the surface. They have shown it to be a planet ...

Venus Express spacecraft fires main engine

Feb 20, 2006

One hundred days after its launch to Venus, the European Space Agency's Venus Express has successfully tested its main engine for the first time in space.

Mapping Venus: Extreme makeover or plate tectonics?

Mar 22, 2010

( -- Venus and Earth have long been thought of as sister planets. Given its similar size and proximity to Earth in the inner Solar System, Venus might seem like a promising candidate for having ...

500 days at Venus, and the surprises keep coming

Sep 03, 2007

Venus Express has now orbited Earth’s twin for 500 Earth days, completing as many orbits. While the satellite maintains steady and excellent performance, the planet continues to surprise and amaze us.

Recommended for you

Internet moguls Musk, Bezos shake up US space race

Sep 20, 2014

The space race to end America's reliance on Russia escalated this week with a multibillion dollar NASA award for SpaceX's Elon Musk and an unexpected joint venture for Blue Origin's Jeff Bezos.

Winter in the southern uplands of Mars

Sep 19, 2014

Over billions of years, the southern uplands of Mars have been pockmarked by numerous impact features, which are often so closely packed that they overlap. One such feature is Hooke crater, shown in this ...

Five facts about NASA's ISS-RapidScat

Sep 19, 2014

NASA's ISS-RapidScat mission will observe ocean wind speed and direction over most of the globe, bringing a new eye on tropical storms, hurricanes and typhoons. Here are five fast facts about the mission.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Apr 09, 2010
Its alive, its alive!

Something thousands of followers of Velikovsky have known for years.
4.5 / 5 (2) Apr 09, 2010
Its alive, its alive!

Something thousands of followers of Velikovsky have known for years.
I get posts pulled that are less frivolous than this.

On topic. It is no surprise that a planet as well insulated as Venus would still be geologically active. Hell the surface is already the temperature of molten lead.