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Volcanoes on Venus: Hot Lava Spotted by ESA's Venus Express

First Posted: Jun 20, 2015 09:27 PM EDT
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Scientists may have discovered lava flows on the surface of Venus. ESA's Venus Express has revealed the best evidence yet for active volcanism on the planet.

Seeing Venus's surface is extremely difficult. It has a thick atmosphere, though radar observations from previous missions have revealed that it's a world covered by volcanoes and ancient lava flows. Now, though, researchers may have evidence for current volcanism.

ESA's Venus Express completed its eight-year mission study of the planet last year. During its operations, it conducted a range of observations at different wavelengths to find out whether or not the planet was still active.

In a study in 2010, researchers reported that the infrared radiation coming from three volcanic regions was different to that form the surrounding terrain. They interpreted this as coming from relatively fresh lava flows that had not yet experienced significant surface weathering. However, the lava flows didn't mean that there was active volcanism on the planet.

Now, the researchers have used a near-infrared channel of the spacecraft's Venus Monitoring Camera (VMC) to map thermal emission from the surface through a transparent spectral window in the planet's atmosphere. This has revealed localized changes in surface brightness between images taken only a few days apart.

"We have now seen several events where a spot on the surface suddenly gets much hotter," said Eugene Shalygin, one of the researchers, in a news release. "These four 'hotspots' are located in what are known from radar imagery to be tectonic rift zones, but this is the first time we have detected that they are hot and changing in temperature from day to day. It is the most tantalizing evidence yet for active volcanism."

The new findings reveal that Venus is, in fact, volcanically active. This reveals a bit more about this planet and tells researchers that this system joins the small group of volcanically active system bodies.

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