Venus has active volcanoes? Info from spacecraft data

Scientists have speculated for decades about active volcanoes on Venus, a world whose surface is always hidden beneath thick clouds.  Now a spacecraft has used its infrared vision to examine three “hot spots” on the surface Venus.  The craft has returned the clearest indication yet that active volcanoes are resurfacing the planet even now.

The data suggest that the Idunn Mons feature on Venus looks most like an active volcano.  The video below shows the spacecraft’s view of this region on the planet.

There’s a longstanding mystery about the craters on Venus.  There aren’t enough of them.  Scientists have speculated that something is wiping the planet’s surface clean. That something is thought to be volcanic activity but there was no clear evidence of ongoing volcanic activity until now.

Data from the European Space Agency’s Venus Express orbiter confirm that Venus is geologically active and likely possesses an interior core similar to that of Earth.  And why not?  The two worlds are very much alike in size and density.

“Venus appears to be a geologically active planet, with hot spots as important centers of heat loss, volcanism, and atmospheric H2O (water) and SO2 (sulfur dioxide),” according to a study  released earlier today in Science magazine.  The study was led by Suzanne Smrekar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Bathed in a carbon dioxide greenhouse gas atmosphere, Venus enjoys surface temperatures near 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Crater evidence suggests a global volcanic event resurfaced the planet more than 590 million years ago. Only about 5% of Venus has been re-covered by volcanic lava since then.  So unlike some earlier speculations about Venus, the planet may not be a hotbed of volcanic activity.  But Venus may have some active volcanoes.

April 8, 2010

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