Scientists have constructed the most detailed map of volcanoes on Venus, which is also the most comprehensive volcanic map of any planet in the solar system.
The map reveals the locations and sizes of the 85,000 volcanic landforms discovered on Venus to date, and scientists hope it will help in the search for new active volcanoes on Earth’s scorching planetary neighbor.
For years, scientists thought that volcanism on Venus was long extinct. Although Venus has more volcanoes than any other planet in the solar systemit has no tectonic plates, which drive volcanic activity on Earth.
A discovery of a recently active volcano on Venus announced earlier this year, however, a renewed interest among planetary scientists to search for other such living volcanoes on the planet’s blistered surface.
“This new database will allow scientists to think about other places to look for evidence of recent geologic activity,” said Paul Byrne, professor of astronomy at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and co-author of the study. statement (opens in a new tab).
Related: Planet Venus: 20 interesting facts about the burning world
The map, released Thursday, March 29, is the most comprehensive catalog of volcanism on any world, including Earth. Most of Earth’s volcanoes have yet to be discovered because they are hidden underwater at the bottom of the planet’s ocean. Venus, however, being the parched world that it is, displays all the volcanoes on its surface, allowing scientists to spot and study most if not all of them.
Byrne’s team made the catalog publicly available (opens in a new tab) for other scientists to analyze. “I’m excited to see what they can discover with the new database!” Byrne said.
The team hopes the new catalog will provide a better understanding of how volcanoes of different sizes form, spread and evolve on the surface of Venus.
“We came up with the idea of putting together a global catalog because no one had done it on this scale before,” said Rebecca Hahn, a graduate student in earth and planetary sciences at the University of Washington and first author. of the new article, in the press release. .
For now, the only information astronomers have about volcanism on Venus comes from images sent by NASA. Magellan spacecraft in the early 1990s. The team behind the latest study used this 30-year-old data to compile a comprehensive inventory of Venusian volcanoes.
The researchers classified all the volcanoes in the database into three groups based on their size: small landforms less than 3 miles (5 kilometers) in diameter, intermediate ones with sizes between 3 and 62 miles (5 to 100 km) and large volcanoes over 62 miles (100 km) wide.
The map revealed that many small volcanoes, which were previously overlooked by volcano hunters, make up a large part of the catalog, according to the study. “These are the most common volcanic features on the planet: they make up about 99% of my dataset,” Hahn said. At the other end of the volcanic size spectrum, the team found that large volcanoes are few in number and are clustered near the Venusian equator.
The team also found that volcanoes on Venus tend to be very small or quite large, as the latest catalog showed surprisingly few volcanic landforms of intermediate sizes. These medium-sized landforms found themselves piled up on the eastern hemisphere of the planet. Interestingly, the team found no volcanoes around the planet’s south pole, although the reason for this is a mystery.
Scientists say these findings shed more light on the processes taking place inside Venus. The number of volcanoes and their size could be explained by specific amounts of magma swirling beneath the planet’s surface, or by the rate at which volcanoes erupt on Venus, according to the study.
Although the latest catalog reveals 50 times more volcanoes than researchers thought existed on the planet’s surface, the team believes there are more to be discovered. For example, extremely small volcanoes spanning only 1 km in diameter are too small to spot in old Magellan data.
Scientists hope that such small volcanoes will be discovered by NASA’s Venus mission VERITAS, which is designed to see through the planet’s thick atmosphere and has the ability to notice centimeter changes on its surface. However, NASA recently withdrew much of the funding for the mission, indefinitely delaying VERITAS – the first of three long-awaited Venus missions.
News of the mission delay came just days before the discovery of the active volcano on Venus, which has made the Venus community eager for missions to the planet that could study its volcanism in more detail. “This is one of the most exciting discoveries we’ve made for Venus – with data that’s decades old!” Byrne said. “But there are still a lot of questions we have for Venus that we can’t answer, that we need to get into the clouds and on the surface.”
The research is described in a paper (opens in a new tab) accepted for publication in the journal JGR Planets.