New study: Scientists observe surface changes on a Venusian volcano in images from the 30-year-old Magellan mission
Scott King, who studies the evolution of Earth, Venus, and Mars, and is not part of the study, is available to offer insight on volcanic activity on the planet Venus, Earth’s nearest neighbor that also is composed of the same materials.
Scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and CalTech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have discovered what appears to be volcanic activity – with apparent eruptions and lava flows -- on Venus, Earth’s sister planet. The new study was published today in the journal Science.
Scott King is a Virginia Tech geophysicist who has studied the thermal evolution of Venus using long-wavelength gravity field to address the resurfacing of Venus as evidenced by the small number of craters on the Venusian surface.
Not part of the study, King said, if the find proves true, it “is a really exciting discovery because while there have been lots of discussion about how Venus, a planet almost the same size as Earth, composed of the same material, and formed via the same process must be volcanically active. We have lots of hints of activity, but we’ve never ‘caught it in the act’ so to speak. We see structures that are volcanoes, we see surface features that look like lava flows, but evidence of present-day volcanic activity has been missing.”
In a story published in Nature, reporter Myriam Vidal Valero wrote of the Science study that the Fairbanks and Jet Propulsion researchers “determined that a volcanic vent located in Venus’s Atla Regio area, which contains two of the planet’s largest volcanoes, changed shape between two images taken eight months apart [30 years ago], suggesting an eruption or flow of magma beneath the vent.”
King is quoted as an expert in the Nature story on the apparent volcanic activity discovery. He said making surface discoveries about Venus is “challenging” because of heavy clouds that shroud the planet.
“Part of the problem is that Venus is shrouded in clouds, and we can’t see the surface except through radar. In this study, the authors have taken two radar images separated by less than a year and see evidence that they interpret as a flow structure in the newer image that was not there in in the older image.
“The images come from the NASA Magellan mission which was orbiting Venus from 1990 to 1992. That this was so hard to find -- this study only now finds it 30 years later -- shows just how challenging it is going to be to detect volcanic activity on Venus.
“Later this decade, NASA will launch two missions to Venus (DAVINCI and VERITAS), and the Euopean Space Agency will launch EnVision in the early 2030s. Both VERITAS and EnVision will have radar that will look for changes in the surface consistent with volcanic and other tectonic activity. This study illustrates the challenges that these missions face, even with newer and higher resolution data. Yet this study also shows what is possible. For the first time, we have direct evidence of a changing surface that is likely due to a volcanic lava flow in the past 30 years on our nearest neighbor.”
Scott King is a professor of geophysics in the Department of Geosciences at Virginia Tech, where he focuses his research on the dynamics and evolution of the interior of the terrestrial planets. He has studied the thermal evolution of Venus using long-wavelength gravity field to address the resurfacing of Venus as evidenced by the small number of craters on the Venusian surface. He also has studied the volcanic evolution of Mars. His latest project involves research into Ceres, a minor planet that orbits Neptune. He was also heavily involved with studying data collected by the NASA lander InSight on Mars.
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