According to Space.com, Venus still may contain active volcanoes with eruptions taking place as recently as a few years ago. Aside from Earth, the only other place known to host active volcanoes that spew lava is Jupiter’s moon Io. Mars and Earth’s moon once had active volcanoes, but they died long ago. Nonetheless, there are hints that Venus might still be harboring active volcanoes. Traces of sulfurous gases have been seen in its atmosphere. In addition, about a decade ago, scientists analyzing data from the European Space Agency’s Venus Express probe suggested that some of the lava flows on Venus are less than 2.5 million years old, and maybe less than 250,000 years old.
In 2010, researchers found unusually high emissions of visible to semi infrared light from a number of sites on Venus. Surface regions that are old are expected to have lower emissions of those types of lights after long exposure to weathering from Venus’ hot, caustic atmosphere, so these patches of higher emissions hinted at recent lava flows. But the exact ages of these lava flows remain unclear. This is because much is unknown about how quickly volcanic rocks alter in response to Venus’ harsh atmosphere and how such changes influence emissions of visible to near-infrared light.
Dr. Justin Filiberto, the study’s lead author and a Universities Space Research Association (USRA) staff scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) has stated “If Venus is indeed active today, it would make a great place to visit to better understand the interiors of planets. For example, we could study how planets cool and why the Earth and Venus have active volcanism, but Mars does not. Future missions should be able to see these flows and changes in the surface and provide concrete evidence of its activity.” Dr. Filiberto and his colleagues recreated Venus’ hot caustic atmosphere in the laboratory to investigate how the observed Venusian minerals react and change over time. Their results showed that an abundant mineral in basalt, olivine reacts rapidly with the atmosphere and within weeks becomes coated with the iron oxide minerals magnetite and hematite. They also found that the Venus Express observations of this change in mineralogy would only take a few years to occur. The new results by Filiberto and coauthors suggest that these lava flows on Venus are very young, which in turn would imply that Venus does indeed have active volcanoes.
Since the ESA’s Venus Express, which orbited Venus from 2006 to 2014, apparently could detect signs of olivine even from orbit, these new findings suggest that such olivine came from volcanic eruptions recently, as otherwise chemical reactions with Venus’ atmosphere would have obscured it. The researchers are now following up on their research with other volcanic minerals baked in air more similar to Venus’ atmosphere that is, coated with carbon dioxide and sulfur. “The results with those are pretty much the same,” Filiberto said. The scientists detailed their findings online Jan. 3 in the journal Science Advances.