Something exploded on Venus recently

Venus is a planet similar in size to Earth, but not entirely suitable for life on the surface. It’s very hot there, and the atmosphere contains deadly compounds. It is also a planet that is still geologically active. This is indicated by newly processed data from a probe from the 1990s.

Progress in astronomy has one very interesting feature. Not only that, as the years go by, we are able to analyze existing data better and better, observe more things, and reach farther and more precisely into deep space. We are also able to reprocess old data, even from several decades ago, to draw conclusions from it that would have been impossible to obtain at the time when the vehicles and instruments that produce this data were in operation.

This is why it is very important in astronomy to save observational data for the future. A great example of this is the asteroid samples delivered to Earth, of which only a small fraction has now been analysed. The rest remains sealed for future generations. A recent reanalysis of Apollo seismic data from the Moon has helped create the most accurate model of the interior of this celestial body. Now data from the Magellan probe, which explored Venus in the early 1990s, has revealed something new about its surface.

Magellan Probe – what is its mission?

Venus is a planet mostly covered by a very thick layer of clouds. Therefore, we cannot say much about its surface based on visual observations from Earth or from the planet’s orbit. During the Cold War, Venus became the focus of Soviet space exploration programs. The Venera program sent several probes there, some of which landed and were able to send images of the surface before going silent.

A radar map of the surface of Venus created using data from the Magellan spacecraft and the Pioneer Venus orbiter. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The United States also managed to send landers to the surface of Venus in 1978, but only the Magellan mission, launched more than a decade later, allowed a breakthrough in our knowledge about this hellish twin of Earth. Magellan’s main goal, which, like Galileo, was based on the platform used on the Voyager missions, was radar observation of the surface of Venus. In this way, it was possible to penetrate the cloud layer and create an accurate 3D map of 98 percent of the planet’s surface with a measurement accuracy of about 100 metres.

From these observations, a picture of a geologically modern surface emerged. There are a few craters there, due to volcanic activity that erased signs of impact. However, in the 1990s it was difficult to define precisely what surface youth meant, until now we are able to use synthetic aperture radar technology effectively. This is a solution that allows you to increase the real resolution of radar images.

Volcanoes continue to erupt on Venus

The Magellan probe database includes twelve different sets of observations. Current analysis of radar data has led to a surprising discovery. Two volcanoes were discovered that erupted in the early 1990s while Magellan was mapping the surface of Venus. The availability of observations of the same areas, formed over several years, already in 2023 led to the discovery of surface changes associated with the Maat Mons volcano near the Venusian equator.

Volcanoes on Venus erupted between 1990 and 1992, and this activity likely continues today.

Now, subsequent data suggests that this is not the only case of activity that may be similar to activity on Earth, according to Davide Solcanese of D’Annunzio University in Pescara, Italy. Saif Mons volcano and another volcano in the western part of Niobi Planitia, a plateau rich in volcanic formations, witnessed lava eruptions between 1990 and 1992. They were recorded in radar images. To rule out other possibilities of formations on the surface, a lava flow analysis was performed, taking into account any previously existing obstructions. Only the lava interpretation matches the observations.

Eistla Regio, the place where Sif Mons is located. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

During the eruption, lava eruptions occurred, the size of which was compared to the size of an Olympic swimming pool and the eruption of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii, which erupted in 2022. The eruption of the Saif Mons volcano led to the formation of deposits the size of about 36,000 Olympic swimming pools, and in the case of the Niobi Planitia volcano even 54,000 swimming pools. An eruption similar to an Earth volcano is approximately 100,000 basins.

New data from the Magellan probe confirm the belief that geological activity is still occurring on Venus, and provide excellent justification for the Veritas mission, which will explore the surface of this planet at the beginning of the next decade. This will be NASA’s first mission since the 1990s. Meanwhile, between 2005 and 2015, the European Venus Express probe focused on examining the planet’s atmosphere and surface – among other things, it was able to determine the surface temperature at around 430 degrees Celsius. Who knows, maybe we’ll be able to extract more fascinating results from observations of fast Venus in the future.

Source: NASA, information. Own input image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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