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Scientists find evidence of active or recently active volcanic structures on Venus

Will Dunham, July 22, 2020 6:45PM Reuters

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Two coronae on the surface of Venus. Aramaiti (left), is one of at least 37 coronae on Venus showing recent activity. The black line represents a gap in data. Picture: Laurent Montesi/University of Maryland via Reuters media_cameraTwo coronae on the surface of Venus. Aramaiti (left), is one of at least 37 coronae on Venus showing recent activity. The black line represents a gap in data. Picture: Laurent Montesi/University of Maryland via Reuters

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Scientists have found 37 volcanoes on Venus that appear to be recently active and probably still are today.

The finding could change the way we think of Venus — seeing it as a geologically* dynamic* planet and not a dormant* world as long thought.

The research focused on ringlike structures called coronae, caused by an upwelling* of hot rock from deep within the planet’s interior, and provided convincing evidence of widespread recent tectonic* and magma* activity on Venus’s surface, researchers said on Monday.

Many scientists had thought Venus, lacking the plate tectonics that gradually reshape Earth’s surface, was dormant for the past half billion years.

“Our work shows that some of that interior heat is still able to reach the surface even today. Venus is clearly not so geologically dead or dormant as previously thought,” said Earth and planetary scientist Anna Gülcher of the Institute of Geophysics in Switzerland, lead author of the research published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The researchers determined the type of geological feature that could exist only in a recently active corona – a trench surrounding the structure. Then they studied radar images of Venus from NASA’s Magellan spacecraft in the 1990s to find coronae with a trench. Of 133 coronae examined, 37 appear to have been active in the past 2 million to 3 million years, which is very recent in geological time.

A FALSE colour image of planet Venus, without cloud cover, as mapped by radar by the US Magellan spacecraft. planets space astronomy media_cameraVenus, without cloud cover, as mapped by radar by the US Magellan spacecraft.

“In my opinion, many of these structures are indeed active today,” said University of Maryland geophysicist and study co-author Laurent Montesi.

A corona is a field of lava flows and major faults across a large circular area. Many of the 37 are in a gigantic ring in the planet’s Southern Hemisphere, including a huge corona called Artemis, 2100km in diameter.

Venus is the Earth’s closest and just slightly smaller planetary neighbour, is covered by clouds of sulfuric acid and has surface temperatures hot enough to melt lead.

This NASA image obtained 07/01/2011 shows a hemispheric view of Venus created using more than a decade of radar investigations culminating in the 1990-1994 Magellan mission and is centered on the planet's North Pole. media_cameraView of Venus created using more than a decade of radar investigations culminating in the 1990-1994 Magellan mission. Image is centred on the planet’s North Pole.

EARTH’S NEIGHBOURS
In order of their distance from the Sun, the planets in our Solar System are:

  • Mercury (closest to the Sun)
  • Venus
  • Earth
  • Mars
  • Jupiter
  • Saturn
  • Uranus
  • Neptune
  • There’s a possible Planet Nine out past Neptune
  • Pluto was classified as a planet until 2006. It came after Neptune on lists like this one
This 2001 NASA montage of planetary images taken by spacecraft managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA. Included are (from top to bottom) images of Mercury, Venus, Earth (and Moon), Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The spacecraft responsible for these images are as follows the Mercury image was taken by Mariner 10, the Venus image by Magellan, the Earth and Moon images by Galileo, the Mars image by Mars Global Surveyor, the Jupiter image by Cassini, and the Saturn, Uranus and Neptune images by Voyager. Pluto, not shown on the picture, lost 24 August 2006 its seven-decade status as the ninth and outermost planet of the solar system, the world's top astrononomical body decided in Prague. media_cameraImages taken by spacecraft managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Top to bottom: Mercury, Venus, Earth (and Moon), Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Mercury image taken by Mariner 10, Venus by Magellan, Earth and Moon by Galileo, Mars by Mars Global Surveyor, Jupiter by Cassini, and Saturn, Uranus and Neptune by Voyager.

GLOSSARY

  • geologically: relating to geology, which is the science of rocks
  • dynamic: moving, active
  • dormant: asleep, not changing
  • upwelling: moving upwards
  • tectonic: relating to the structure of the Earth or another planet’s crust
  • magma: hot liquid under the surface of Earth or another planet

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. Which feature tells us a corona has been recently active?
  2. What are coronae in geology?
  3. Could humans live on Venus? Why or why not?
  4. Which planet is closest to the Sun?
  5. What are Earth’s two closest planetary neighbours?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Remembering the order of the planets

Create a word mnemonic to help you remember the order of the planets in their distance from the Sun.

A word mnemonic is a simple sentence to help you remember the starting letter of the information you are trying to remember in order. For example, Roy G. Biv is a name used to remember all the first letters of the colours of the rainbow.

Share your mnemonic with the class.

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

2. Extension
Do you think there could ever by human life on Venus? State your reasons why or why not.

Time: allow 5 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and Creative thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
I Spy Nouns
Nouns are places, names (of people and objects), and time (months or days of the week).

How many nouns can you find in the article?

Can you sort them into places, names and time?

Pick 3 nouns and add an adjective (describing word) to the nouns.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Which is your favourite planet?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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