Venus, an inhospitable planet where surface temperatures hover around 900 degrees Fahrenheit and clouds are made of sulphuric acid, just became an even tougher sell for Earthlings looking to switch planets. New research has identified 37 structures on the second planet from the sun that appear to be massive, active volcanoes, reports Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Venus’ volcanism has long been known to scientists but was thought to be a thing of the planet’s distant past, reports Will Dunham for Reuters. The new paper, published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, suggests the planet’s volcanoes are not dormant and that its geologically volatile days are not yet behind it.
“People have suggested that Venus is volcanically active before,” Anna Gülcher, a geophysicist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and lead author of the new research, tells Jason Arunn Murugesu of New Scientist. “What we have done that is new is to map out these regions and correlate them to these specific sites.”
The study used new simulations to investigate how ring-shaped geological structures called coronae on the cloudy planet’s surface might have formed, reports Bruce Dorminey for Forbes. Those simulations relied on data concerning Venus’ interior gathered by the European Space Agency’s Venus Express mission, which ended in 2014.
The simulations the researchers created using that data allowed them to pick out the features they’d expect to see on an active Venusian volcano, which, per New Scientist, included an outer ring surrounded by a depression with a bulge at its edge. Planetary geologists refer to these ovular features as coronae.
Those features were then used to evaluate infrared images of 133 coronae from NASA’s Magellan mission to Venus, which ended in 1994, per AFP. The team was able to identify at least 37 sites that possess the hallmarks of volcanic activity in the past two to three million years.
“In my opinion, many of these structures are indeed active today,” Laurent Montesi, a geophysicist at University of Maryland and co-author of the study, tells AFP.
Though the sites do appear to be active, heat flow calculations suggest the coronae are past their peak levels of volcanic activity, according to Forbes. Despite being slightly smaller than Earth, the study found Venus’ average coronae was around 186 miles across, more than twice the size of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, which is Earth’s largest active volcano. According to AFP, one massive corona called Artemis has a diameter of 1,300 miles—that’s a potentially active volcano larger than the state of New Mexico.
“Our work shows that some of that interior heat is still able to reach the surface even today,” Gülcher tells AFP. “Venus is clearly not so geologically dead or dormant as previously thought.”
Sami Mikhail, a geochemist at the University of St Andrews who was not involved in the research, tells New Scientist that Venus is the most Earth-like planet humans have observed “based on size, chemistry and position in the solar system.” He adds that “understanding whether or not the planet is volcanically active today is an integral piece of the puzzle to revealing why Earth is the definition of habitable, and Venus is a barren, hot and hellish wasteland.”