Traces of recent volcanic activity on Venus

3D rendition of coronae on Venus (Image courtesy Laurent Montési / University of Maryland)
3D rendition of coronae on Venus (Image courtesy Laurent Montési / University of Maryland)

An article published in the journal “Nature Geoscience” reports the identification of 37 volcanoes that were active recently on the planet Venus. A team of researchers used models of thermo-mechanical activity under the surface of Venus to create 3D simulations of the formation of ring structures known as coronae that form when plumes of hot materials within the planet rise through the layers of the mantle and crust. This study offers what the authors claim is the best evidence ever found that Venus is still a geologically active planet.

Venus and Earth are similar in different ways, from a size that’s almost the same to the structure and composition, but at the same time, they’re profoundly different. From a geological point of view, there are no plaques on Venus and tectonic activity develops very differently from Earth. According to the authors of this new research, those differences could be caused by the fact that Venus has a water-depleted interior and the temperature on the surface is much higher.

One of the objects of study, not easy, for scientists regarding Venus are its volcanoes. There’s evidence that it’s the most volcanic planet in the solar system and that in the past the planet was active from this point of view. The difficult part is to establish whether there are active volcanoes today or their activity lasted until the past recent.

The volcanoes on Venus have coronae, ring-shaped structures generated by liquid lava from layers of mantle and crust. On Earth, a similar process formed the volcanic islands of Hawaii. The exact processes have been the subject of debate, and it was thought that the coronae were probably the signs of an ancient activity, now exhausted after the planet’s cooling. To understand which of the over 500 coronae identified on Venus are actually ancient and if there are some recent ones, the researchers created very high-resolution simulations to understand the characteristics of recent magma spills.

According to Laurent Montési, professor of geology at the University of Maryland and among the authors of the research, this approach significantly changes the vision of Venus from a mainly inactive planet to one that’s still churning and can feed many active volcanoes.

The 37 coronae identified as recent are clustered in just a few areas, and this suggests that the planet is most active there, providing clues to its interior’s working. The interest is also linked to plans for future missions on Venus such as ESA’s EnVision, a proposal currently being evaluated. Understanding the geological characteristics of Venus offers information that helps explain why in some ways it’s so different from Earth, given that its greater proximity to the Sun is only one of the causes.

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