The planet Venus is alive

10 April 2010


This week astronomers have solved a long-running debate over the nature of the surface of our neighbour planet, Venus, by identifying three volcanoes.

Venus is something of an enigma as it's similar in size to Earth, a few tens of million miles closer to the sun but has a curiously smooth surface. Normally we'd expect the planet to be full of craters from various astronomical impacts but there just aren't enough on Venus. One explanation for this would be recent tectonic remodelling - where the mantle pops out through gaps in the crust of the planet. And it's these areas where you might find volcanoes.

Suzanne Smrekar and colleagues from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory used surface heat data from the Venus Express spacecraft to identify three heat spots. So just like Hawaii on Earth, which consists of islands on volcanic plumes, it seems that Venus has these plumes too.

In the areas around the hotspots the composition of the rock also indicated the presence of young lava flows, as it was quite different to the rest of the surface material.

Of course in astronomical terms these volcanoes have been recently active and should be, at most, a rather spritely 2.5 million years old.


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