Image credit: ESA
Six years after originally finding evidence suggesting that Venus was geologically active, new research presented earlier this week at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Division for Planetary Sciences meeting indicates that lava may be flowing from one of its volcanoes.
According to ScienceNews and Astronomy Magazine, a team of planetary researchers from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) reviewed data from the ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft and found hotspots suggesting that the volcano known as Idunn Mons could currently be active.
Using its VIRTIS (Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer) instrument, the orbiter mapped the planet’s southern hemisphere in the near infrared spectrum, and by using a numerical model to improve the limits of its data resolution, the DLR team analyzed anomalies detected on top of and in the eastern part of the 200 km volcano. They uncovered signs of volcanism.
“We could identify and map distinctive lava flows from the top and eastern flank of the volcano, which might have been recently active in terms of geologic time,” D’Incecco said in a statement. “With our new technique, we could combine the infrared data with much higher-resolution radar images from the NASA Magellan mission,” which orbited Venus from 1990 until 1992.
D’Incecco went on to explain that his team’s work represented “the first time that – combining the datasets from two different missions – we can perform a high-resolution geologic mapping of a recently active volcanic structure from the surface of a planet other than Earth.”
Discovery will likely help direct future Venus-bound missions
Long known to be a hellish landscape with far and away the hottest surface temperatures in the solar system and atmospheric pressure 92 times that found on Earth, the first evidence that Venus may still be geologically active was gathered by the Venus Express’ VIRTIS instrument in 2010.
At the time, the probe found several anomalies with elevated levels of emissivity (or an object’s ability to emit infrared energy), ScienceNews and Astronomy Magazine reported, suggesting that magma may have been flowing beneath the planet’s surface. It also found signs of weathering on warmer rocks, indicating that they were relatively new, geologically speaking.
Using their numerical technique along with the VIRTIS model and the Magellan mission data, D’Incecco and his colleagues conducted a computer simulation to determine how Idunn Mons might have generated the hot spots detected around it. They concluded that five lava flows, one atop the mountain and four running down the sides of the volcano, were likely the source.
Their findings will be used to help shape future missions designed to explore Earth’s so-called “sister planet,” including NASA’s planned Discovery VERITAS mission and the ESA EnVision M5 project, which will combine high-resolution radar with near-infrared mapping, DLR pointed out. Both of those missions are likely to be launched sometime within the next decade.
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