Venus Is Alive!

Maat Mons Venus Volcano

Maat Mons is displayed in this computer-generated, three-dimensional perspective of the surface of Venus. The viewpoint is located 634 kilometers (393 miles) north of Maat Mons at an elevation of 3 kilometers (2 miles) above the terrain. Lava flows extend for hundreds of kilometers across the fractured plains shown in the foreground, to the base of Maat Mons. NASA Magellan mission synthetic aperture radar data is combined with radar altimetry to develop a three-dimensional map of the surface. The vertical scale in this perspective has been exaggerated 10 times. Credit: NASA/JPL

New Evidence That Venus Is Volcanically Active

New research provides strong evidence of volcanic activity on Venus. The study identified a nearly 1-square-mile volcanic vent that changed shape and grew over eight months in 1991. Such changes on Earth are associated with volcanic activity, either through eruptions or magma movement causing vent walls to collapse and expand. This discovery offers insights into the geology of Venus, Earth’s sister planet, which, despite being similar in size and mass, lacks plate tectonics.

Venus appears to have volcanic activity, according to a new research paper that offers strong evidence to answer the lingering question about whether Earth’s sister planet currently has eruptions and lava flows. Although planets are not considered “alive” in the biological sense, scientists refer to a planet as “alive” when it is geologically active. A geologically active planet may have a dynamic core, volcanic activity, or tectonic movement. Scientists used to think Venus was geologically dead, but this new research is strong evidence that it is still geologically active.

Venus, although similar to Earth in size and mass, differs markedly in that it does not have plate tectonics. The boundaries of Earth’s moving surface plates are the primary locations of volcanic activity.

New research by University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute research professor Robert Herrick revealed a nearly 1-square-mile volcanic vent that changed in shape and grew over eight months in 1991. Changes on such a scale on Earth are associated with volcanic activity, whether through an eruption at the vent or movement of magma beneath the vent that causes the vent walls to collapse and the vent to expand.

The research was published recently in the journal Science.

Venus Global View Magellan Mapping Annotated

This annotated, computer-simulated global map of Venus’ surface is assembled from data from NASA’s Magellan and Pioneer Venus Orbiter missions. Maat Mons, the volcano that has exhibited signs of a recent eruption, is within the black square near the planet’s equator. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Herrick studied images taken in the early 1990s during the first two imaging cycles of NASA’s Magellan space probe. Until recently, comparing digital images to find new lava flows took too much time, the paper notes. As a result, few scientists have searched Magellan data for feature formation.

“It is really only in the last decade or so that the Magellan data has been available at full resolution, mosaicked and easily manipulable by an investigator with a typical personal workstation,” Herrick said.

The new research focused on an area containing two of Venus’ largest volcanoes, Ozza and Maat Mons. 

“Ozza and Maat Mons are comparable in volume to Earth’s largest volcanoes but have lower slopes and thus are more spread out,” Herrick said.

Maat Mons contains the expanded vent that indicates volcanic activity.

Venus Maat Mons 3D Perspective View

This image is a colored 3D perspective view of Venus’ Maat Mons. Credit: David P. Anderson, SMU/NASA science photo library

Herrick compared a Magellan image from mid-February 1991 with a mid-October 1991 image and noticed a change to a vent on the north side of a domed shield volcano that is part of the Maat Mons volcano.

The vent had grown from a circular formation of just under 1 square mile to an irregular shape of about 1.5 square miles.

The later image indicates that the vent’s walls became shorter, perhaps only a few hundred feet high, and that the vent was nearly filled to its rim. The researchers speculate that a lava lake formed in the vent during the eight months between the images, though whether the contents were liquid or cooled and solidified isn’t known.

Evidence That Venus Is Volcanically Active

The panels show the east-looking first (A) and west-looking second (B) images of the vent. Credit: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.abm7735

The researchers offer one caveat: a nonvolcanic, earthquake-triggered collapse of the vent’s walls might have caused the expansion. They note, however, that vent collapses of this scale on Earth’s volcanoes have always been accompanied by nearby volcanic eruptions; magma withdraws from beneath the vent because it is going somewhere else.  

The surface of Venus is geologically young, especially compared to all the other rocky bodies except Earth and Jupiter’s moon Io, Herrick said.

“However, the estimates of how often eruptions might occur on Venus have been speculative, ranging from several large eruptions per year to one such eruption every several or even tens of years,” he said.

Robert Herrick

Research professor Robert Herrick. Credit: UAF/GI photo by JR Ancheta

Herrick contrasts the lack of information about Venusian volcanism with what is known about Jupiter’s moon Io and about Mars.

“Io is so active that multiple ongoing eruptions have been imaged every time we’ve observed it,” he said.

On a geological time scale, relatively young lava flows indicate Mars remains volcanically active, Herrick said.

 “However, nothing has occurred in the 45 years that we have been observing Mars, and most scientists would say that you’d probably need to watch the surface for a few million years to have a reasonable chance of seeing a new lava flow,” he said.

Herrick’s research adds Venus to the small pool of volcanically active bodies in our solar system.

“We can now say that Venus is presently volcanically active in the sense that there are at least a few eruptions per year,” he said. “We can expect that the upcoming Venus missions will observe new volcanic flows that have occurred since the Magellan mission ended three decades ago, and we should see some activity occurring while the two upcoming orbital missions are collecting images.”

For more on this research:

Reference: “Surface changes observed on a Venusian volcano during the Magellan mission” by Robert R. Herrick and Scott Hensley, 15 March 2023, Science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.abm7735

Co-author Scott Hensley of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory performed the modeling for the research.

14 Comments on "Venus Is Alive!"

  1. The back side of Venus never sees the sun, so it’s cold . Any questions?

    • Torbjörn Larsson | April 7, 2023 at 11:31 am | Reply

      More like answers:

      Venus is not tidally locked to the Sun, likely due to its dense, superrotating atmosphere. And that atmosphere sees to it that it has much the same temperature everywhere, the differences set by differences in the dominating intrinsic crustal heat transport which provides 98 % of the surface heat.

      “Earth’s evil twin, Venus, lies close to the tidal locking threshold. So close that it very nearly could have been tidally locked to the Sun… yet it isn’t. It takes Venus 225 days to complete one orbit of the Sun – and 243 days to complete one rotation. What’s more, unlike other planets, it rotates in the opposite direction to its orbit around the Sun.

      It’s a small difference, but a significant one. The one thing preventing Venus from locking fully is the planet’s thick, tempestuous atmosphere, which whips around Venus in just four days: 60 times faster than the planet itself.”

      [“Venus Should Be ‘Locked’ With One Side Facing The Sun. Here’s Why It Isn’t”, 21 April 2022, MICHELLE STARR, Science Alert.]

      “The mystery behind why the atmosphere of Venus spins much faster than the planet’s surface may finally be solved, a new study finds. The finding might help shed light on how habitable distant exoplanets, or worlds beyond our solar system, may actually be, researchers said.

      Compared to Earth, Venus twirls at a leisurely pace on its axis, with its surface taking 243 Earth days to complete one rotation. However, the hot, deadly atmosphere of Venus spins nearly 60 times faster than its surface, whirling around the planet once every 96 hours, an effect known as super-rotation.”

      “The scientists discovered the Venusian atmosphere received angular momentum though thermal tides, which are variations in atmospheric pressure driven by solar heating near the planet’s equator. They also found planetary-scale waves in the atmosphere as well as large-scale atmospheric turbulence worked against this effect from thermal tides.”

      [“Mystery of Venus atmosphere’s weird rotation may finally be solved”, By Charles Q. Choi published April 24, 2020, Space.]

      “First global map of Venus nightside surface temperature using Akatsuki infrared measurements reveals hot Venus surface with an average surface temperature of about 698 K. Surface temperatures do not show any significant variation with changing latitudes because only a small amount (~2.5%) of solar energy reaches the surface. Surface temperatures are relatively colder at higher altitude regions as compared to lower altitude regions. However, the major temperature variation on Venus surface is governed by various lithospheric heat transport mechanisms. On a global scale, surface temperatures show a spatial variation of about 230 K.”

      Venus surface temperatures indicate a hot (~698 K) with little to almost no interaction with solar energy. Assuming a solar constant of 2600 Wm−2, and 2.5% absorption by the surface the dayside temperature would be higher by about 1–2 K than nightside temperature. This indicates that the dayside surface temperatures would not be significantly different than that of the nightside surface temperatures. ”

      [“Venus nightside surface temperature”, D. Singh, Scientific Reports (Nature. 2019).]

      • Torbjörn Larsson | April 7, 2023 at 11:36 am | Reply

        Oops. Strike “provides 98 % of the surface heat”, it can be even less since it is the fraction of solar heat reaching the surface. In any case there likely is an insignificant temperature difference between day- and nightside, as we would expect from the dense (and rapidly rotating) atmosphere anyway even though the mechanisms are more complicated than the naive picture.

  2. Andrew W Bouseman | March 31, 2023 at 7:26 am | Reply

    Another piece of “science journalism” that misrepresents the finding with a click-bait title. People think, “Oh, they found life on Venus?” and click the article only to groan and curse the advertising revenue dependent “journalism” that produces such trickery.

    • Sam R England | April 1, 2023 at 5:15 am | Reply

      Like the article states, geologists consider a planet ‘alive’ when it is geologically active. Don’t you think if we had discovered biological life on Venus that the headline would’ve stated simply:

      • Are you seriously saying that you don’t think the title was intended to mislead?

        • Torbjörn Larsson | April 7, 2023 at 11:14 am | Reply

          The serious suggestion is that “geologically alive” is a common term. Anyone clicking on such a title has been setting itself up (and now learned more, either way).

  3. Tanya Bennett | March 31, 2023 at 1:40 pm | Reply

    Herrick is a geophysical researcher from my beloved University of Alaska system (I am Alaskan). I’m only a space science fan, not a professional, but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to think ‘alive’ means ‘life’, because geophysically it would mean active. If you live in Alaska, we talk about our volcanoes like they are alive, they are all ‘she’. The northern lights ‘dance’ but have no legs. In fact, if the article had NOT referred to being alive, I would have thought it another dry repetition of stale old facts regurgitated…THAT would be clickbait. But then, I am not a science professional.

  4. Tanya Bennett | March 31, 2023 at 1:44 pm | Reply

    Besides, the title said the planet was alive, not that it showed signs of life. Perfectly correct use of English for a necessarily short title.

  5. Websterphreaky | March 31, 2023 at 11:35 pm | Reply

    1991!? Theyve had this observation that long and are just figuring this out? Dopes.

  6. Crispin Pemberton-Pigott | April 1, 2023 at 3:42 pm | Reply

    Venus does rotate, but slowly. It is likely to have carbon based life in the atmosphere at various pressures, even Earthlike as a result of panspermia. Where there are bacteria, viruses can survive. Sulphur-based life is common enough on Earth, why not Venus?

  7. Great news,

    Does this mean we human can settle there?

    If yes,after how many years??

  8. Torbjörn Larsson | April 7, 2023 at 11:10 am | Reply

    “Just recently, evidence suggesting that there is an active volcano on Venus was reported by researchers. Now, two other scientists have published a new map of the planet and its 85,000 volcanoes, which might help to discover new fresh lava flows and inform future missions that will study the second planet from the Sun.

    The map was devised by planetary scientists Paul Byrne and Rebecca Hahn from Washington University in St. Louis. It is based on data collected by NASA’s Magellan mission, which orbited Venus from 1990 to 1994 and mapped the surface of the planet using radar. The team reports that 99 percent of the volcanos are less than 5 kilometers (3 miles) across.”

    “The work suggests some very interesting volcanism on Venus. First of all, there are so many volcanos. There is no complete and accurate count of all volcanos on Earth, but the potentially active ones add up to about 1,350, a small number by comparison – also making this one of the most detailed maps of volcanos everywhere.

    “We came up with this idea of putting together a global catalog because no one’s done it at this scale before,” first author Hahn, a graduate researcher in earth and planetary sciences, explained.

    Another fact is that most of them are small. Only a tiny fraction of the Venusian volcanos are in the 20-100 kilometer (12-60 mile) diameter range, indicating something about magma availability and eruption rates. Also, the smaller volcanos seem to be clustering in certain areas.”

    [“Map Shows All 85,000 Volcanos On Venus For The First Time”, DR. ALFREDO CARPINETI, IFLScience.]

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