Scientists discover incredible evidence of volcanic activity on Venus
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NASA scientists have successfully identified evidence of volcanic activity on Venus for the first time in history.
The study of Venus came ahead of an upcoming mission from NASA, which aims to understand how the rocky planet sometimes known as 'Earth's twin' developed into a place with a toxic atmosphere.
The VERITAS mission, which stands for Venus Emissivity, Radio science, InSAR, Topography, And Spectroscopy, is set to launch within a decade, but before it goes ahead scientists took a closer look at radar images of Venus taken in the 1990s by NASA’s Magellan mission.
Robert Herrick, a research professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and member of the VERITAS science team, spent about 200 hours looking at the images taken more than 30 years ago, but the dedication paid off as scientists discovered direct geological evidence of recent volcanic activity.
The images were taken in Atla Regio, a vast highland region near Venus’ equator which is home to two of the planet’s largest volcanoes, Ozza Mons and Maat Mons.
Herrick found that a volcanic vent changed shape and increased significantly in size in less than a year, with images taken in February 1991 showing a nearly circular vent covering an area of less than 1 square mile.
The vent had steep interior sides and showed signs of drained lava down its exterior slopes, factors that hinted at activity, but by October that year the same vent had doubled in size and become misshapen.
It appeared to be filled to the rim with a lava lake, so Herrick teamed up with Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Scott Hensley to create computer models of the vent to better investigate what could have caused the change.
By studying the models, they concluded that it could only have been an eruption.
In spite of his achievement, Herrick admitted he 'didn’t really expect to be successful' with his research when he started out.
“NASA’s selection of the VERITAS mission inspired me to look for recent volcanic activity in Magellan data,” he said.
"But after about 200 hours of manually comparing the images of different Magellan orbits, I saw two images of the same region taken eight months apart exhibiting telltale geological changes caused by an eruption.”
Though the area has long been thought to be volcanically active, there was no direct evidence of recent activity until now.
By studying active volcanoes, scientists can better understand how a planet’s interior can shape its crust, drive its evolution, and affect its habitability.
VERITAS, led by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, will aim to do just that as it uses state-of-the-art synthetic aperture radar to create 3D global maps and a near-infrared spectrometer to figure out what the surface is made of.
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