According to a new study, there may still be active volcanoes on Venus and they could have erupted very recently. If this is correct, this would be a significant discovery as the only other known place in our Solar System (besides Earth) that contains active volcanoes that spew lava is Jupiter’s moon Io. Mars, as well as our own moon, had active volcanoes at one time, but they all died out a very long time ago.
Around a decade ago, scientists were studying data from the European Space Agency’s Venus Express probe that orbited the planet from 2006 to 2014 and found that lava flowed on the planet less than 2.5 million years ago and perhaps even as recently as 250,000 years ago. In fact, back in 2010, visible to near-infrared light was emitting from certain areas on Venus which indicated recent lava flows. But how recent the lava flows occurred remains unknown as it’s still unclear as to how the volcanic rocks react to Venus’ severely harsh atmosphere.
However, with traces of sulfurous gases in Venus’ atmosphere, it seems as though there are still active volcanoes on the planet.
In order to find out for sure how recent the lava flows occurred, researchers conducted an experiment using crystals of olivine, which are green minerals that are found in volcanic rocks. They studied how the crystals would be affected in conditions that are similar to Venus’ surface.
The researchers heated the olivine, as well as Earth air, inside of a furnace with temperatures as high as 1,650 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately a month. They discovered that within days, the olivine was coated with a red-black mineral hematite which causes some of the crystal’s features to become hard to detect.
Since signs of olivine were detected from space, this suggests that there were volcanic eruptions on Venus quite recently or else they wouldn’t have been detected if the eruptions happened a long time ago.
Researchers then conducted another experiment with different volcanic minerals heated with air containing carbon dioxide and sulfur – more similar to the atmosphere on Venus. “The results with those are pretty much the same,” Justin Filiberto, who is a planetary scientist at the Universities Space Research Association’s Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, told Space.com. He went on to say, “This is the first time we may have seen active volcanism on another planet.”
The scientists’ findings were published in the journal Science Advances and can be read in full here.