New analysis shows that volcanic activity on Venus is greater than previously thought


Venus appears to be more volcanically active than previously known, according to scientists whose new analysis of decades-old radar images has found evidence of volcanic eruptions at two additional sites on the surface of Earth's inhospitable neighbor.

Radar images obtained by NASA's Magellan spacecraft from 1990 to 1992 showed that massive lava flows were occurring at these two locations in Venus's northern hemisphere at the time of the observations, the researchers reported. These findings, along with previous studies, indicate that the planet's volcanic activity is comparable to that of Earth, they said.

Magellan mapped 98% of Venus's surface. Advances in computing power have made Magellan's radar data easier to analyze in recent years.

“These findings significantly change our understanding of the degree of volcanic activity on Venus, suggesting that it may be much more active than previously thought,” said planetary scientist Davide Sulcani of D'Annunzio University in Pescara, Italy, lead author of the study published this week in the journal Planetesimals. Nature Astronomy,

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One of the two sites is a volcano called Ceph Mons, which is about 200 miles (300 km) wide and located in a region called Eastla Regio. Before-and-after radar images show that the lava flows covered about 12 square miles (30 square km) of rock. The other site is a large volcanic plain in an area called Niobe Planitia. This lava flow covered about 17 square miles (45 square kilometers) of rock.

“Both Ceph Mons and the volcanoes of Niobe Planitia are shield volcanoes, characterized by wide, gentle slopes built up by low-viscosity lava flows,” said Giuseppe Mitri, a planetary scientist at D'Annunzio University and co-author of the study.

The average depth of the new reef at both locations was estimated to be between about 10 and 66 feet (three and 20 meters).

“The lava flows observed on the western flank of Ceph Mons have linear features, with meandering patterns that follow the direction of the maximum slope, generally towards the west,” said Marco Mastrogiuseppe, a planetary scientist at Università Sapienza and Link Campus University of Rome and co-author of the study.

“Regarding the flows in Niobe Planitia, it appears that the lava flows originate near small shield volcanoes and move northeast, following the direction of the slope,” Mastrogiuseppe said.

Venus is the second planet from the sun, and Earth is the third. Venus has a diameter of about 7,500 miles (12,000 km), slightly smaller than Earth.

The new study builds on previous findings of ongoing volcanic activity on Venus. A 2023 study found that a volcanic vent on Maat Mons in a region called Atla Regio near the equator expanded and changed shape during the Magellan mission.

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“Our study is the first to provide direct evidence of lava flows formed during the Magellan mission period. By analyzing radar images obtained from the Magellan spacecraft, we observed changes in the surface morphology and radar data that indicated new lava flows,” Sulkeni said.

“This provides direct evidence of ongoing volcanic activity on Venus, building on previous evidence such as variations in atmospheric sulfur dioxide, surface thermal emission data, and evidence of volcanic vent deformation, particularly observed in Atla Regio,” Sulcani said.

Studying volcanic activity provides a more complete understanding of the planet's internal heat and geological processes.

“This provides information about the planet's thermal evolution, surface renewal processes and atmospheric interactions,” Mitri said.

Venus's thick atmosphere, composed mostly of carbon dioxide, traps heat due to the greenhouse effect, making Venus the hottest planet in our solar system.

“Despite Venus and Earth being very similar in terms of size, mass, chemical composition and internal structure, there are some fundamental differences that make Venus a hellish planet,” where surface temperatures are much hotter and atmospheric pressures are much higher, Sulkeni said.

“The reason for this different evolution is still a matter of debate,” Sulcani said, adding that missions planned by NASA and the European Space Agency in the coming years “will help us understand why these two planets have such different fates.”

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