Alterations on the Venusian Volcano Surface Detected During the Magellan Mission

Robert Herrick, a planetary scientist and research professor at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks‘ Geophysical Institute, recently published a study in the Science journal. The study suggests that a volcano on Venus last erupted in 1991. A volcanic vent on the north side of Venus’ Maat Mons altered shape over eight months. This signaled an eruption, according to Herrick’s analysis of photographs from the 1990s Magellan mission, which studied the planet’s surface. This is significant because, for many years, scientists have been questioning the idea that Venus is geologically dead. This is because numerous studies have concluded that some of Venus’ volcanoes are still active. This is despite plate tectonics not being present. Plate tectonics is the mechanism that drives most volcanoes on Earth. 

Herrick states that the frequency of eruptions is still mostly unclear. However, Venus is most likely to erupt every several months or so. For researchers, understanding the interactions between Venus’s interior and atmosphere is crucial. This is because they are investigating whether there may be life on planets of comparable size in other star systems. This discovery is important because it might enable researchers to refine their theories about how the planet came to be such a hot mess.

In the coming ten years, NASA plans to send two missions to Venus. They are the VERITAS orbiter mission and the DAVINCI+ atmospheric probe mission. These missions will aid researchers in studying the geology and development of Venus. This is along with an EnVision probe from the European Space Agency (ESA). Venus is sometimes referred to as Earth’s “evil twin.” This is because of its intensely heated surface. The heating surface is covered in a thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide that traps heat, and its cloudy skies, are blanketed in sulfuric acid droplets.

There is more to the question of what’s going on inside Venus than merely a neighborly curiosity. It expands on a fundamental puzzle: How did Venus, a planet with a size and composition comparable to the habitable Earth’s, end up so savage? Herrick and Scott Hensley, a co-author from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, combed through decades-old records to conduct the study.

Herrick noted that obtaining just one image to load on a screen may take up to 10 seconds. This is after data was distributed to scientists on boxes and boxes of compact discs. Since then, the photographs have been combined to create a mosaic. The mosaic enables researchers to zoom across Venus’ surface as if they were panning through Google Earth and analyze old data in new ways.

Herrick compared his search to “looking for a needle in a haystack without any assurance the needle exists.” Radar picture interpretation is challenging. However, the best available proof is a Venusian volcanic eruption film. Yet, several outside scientists found it persuasive, especially in light of other recent findings. The volcanic vent is spherical, deep, and has steep walls in the first picture. Eight months later, it looks to have filled in and is shallower. According to Herrick, there may have been an eruption, and a lava lake nearly filled it to the rim.