Earth and Venus, on the one hand, are very similar planets. They have approximately the same volume, in addition, both contain a metal core wrapped in a mantle and covered with crust. According to some scientists, at some point in time, when the solar system was still very young, Venus had even more attractive conditions for life than Earth. The atmosphere of our planet then consisted of ammonia, hydrogen, methane and water vapor. However, the paths of development of both planets diverged. Now the Earth is teeming with life, and Venus is a hot planet surrounded by a poisonous atmosphere. However, in a recent study, scientists have discovered something else that unites Venus with the Earth – this is its volcanic activity, which until the last moment was disputed.
Why Venus is understudied
Venus is much less studied than, for example, Mars, on which robotic rovers work and study life. It simply does not have the conditions for this – now Venus is a “hellish planet”, the average temperature on which is about 462 degrees Celsius. We discussed the reasons for this earlier. But not even the high temperature is the main problem for the study of the planet. The fact is that a sufficiently dense layer of the atmosphere does not allow a thorough examination of the surface.
There are also very few probes that study or have studied the planet. Currently, only the Akatsuki probe of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is in operation. However, his focus is on the atmosphere, not the surface of the planet. Other probes only flew past Venus and took pictures in passing. However, in order to study volcanic activity, the surface must be observed for a long time.
Therefore, new research by scientists is based on images taken by the Magellan probe about 30 years ago. It orbited Venus for more than 4.5 years, while between 1990 and 1992 it explored the surface of the planet using a special radar. However, the probe’s orbit was quite elongated, as a result of which images of Venus were taken from different angles. Therefore, for a long time, the images could not be used to compare the appearance of the same parts of the planet’s surface in different periods of time.
However, in recent years, technology has made it possible to improve the quality of old images, that is, to obtain more detailed images without distortions associated with the peculiarity of the orbit.
Volcanic activity of Venus
As we said above, Venus has a structure similar to Earth, but there is one important difference. As you know, the lithosphere of our planet, that is, the rocky shell, resembles a cracked eggshell, consisting of separate tectonic plates. They bump into each other and create tension, resulting in earthquakes like the one that occurred on February 6, 2023 in Turkey and Syria.
Much of the volcanic activity also occurs along the junctions of tectonic plates. But our Earth is the only planet in the solar system that has a lithosphere consisting of individual plates. The rest of the planets, including Venus, have a solid lithosphere. Therefore, its volcanic activity turned out to be a controversial issue.
Exploring images of the planet, scientists have discovered something that looks like two volcanoes. They are comparable in size to volcanoes on Earth, but flatter. Comparing pictures of one of the volcanoes taken at different times, scientists found that the volcanic vent changed shape and increased in size over the course of eight months in 1991.
According to the researchers, the mouth was at first almost round, and its area was about 2200 square meters. However, after some time, the shape became irregular, and the area increased to 4 square kilometers. Moreover, the vent in the second picture was filled to the brim, quite possibly with lava. However, it is not known whether the material inside in the later photo was molten or solid. The scientists report this in the journal Science.
In addition, the landscape around the vent has also changed. This may have been due to lava flows. Of course, it can be assumed that the vent collapsed on its own, without volcanic activity. However, many recent studies suggest that there is still volcanic activity on Venus. Scientists expect that the upcoming missions to Venus will put an end to this issue.
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Finally, we recall that, according to scientists, the Earth also had great chances to remain a “steam boiler” forever. However, unlike Venus, our planet managed to condense water while the Sun was less hot than it is now, thanks to which favorable conditions arose for the origin of life.