Volcanoes on the ‘Home World of Women’

Woman got the worse deal when author John Gray wrote a book titled ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.’  The point he was clearly making was about the communication issues between the sexes, but men definitely got the better deal in home worlds.  For one, Mars is kind of cold, has polar ice caps, is covered in rust and dust, has been pretty dead inside for millions of years, and is bombarded with radiation from the Sun (you can draw your own parallels to men yourself).  But Venus, with its 400 degree Celsius temperature, sulphuric acid rain, incredibly high pressured atmosphere, and active volcanoes, doesn’t paint a nice picture about the fairer sex.

At any rate, the planets are the way they are, and the genders won’t get any advice from me.  The volcanoes on Venus have been a subject of debate for a long time.  There has been evidence of active volcanism, but nothing really conclusive.  We can always speculate, but with a shroud of thick clouds it can be difficult to identify any potential lava flows.

Volcanoes on Venus. Radiating our from the Venusian volcano Ozza Mons (red, center) are thousands of miles of rift zones (purple). Data from the Venus Express spacecraft suggests there are active lava flows in hotspots along the rifts. Credit: Ivanov/Head/Dickson/Brown University

Thermal images from the Venus Express orbiter mission show hotspots around a region of large rift zones called Ghaniki Chasma.  The data shows temperature spikes of several hundred degrees in areas of up to 200 square kilometres. Ghaniki Chasma has been shown to be quite a young region compared to the rest of Venus, geologically speaking.

“We knew that Ganiki Chasma was the result of volcanism that had occurred fairly recently in geological terms, but we didn’t know if it formed yesterday or was a billion years old,” said James W. Head, a geologist at Brown University and co-author of a paper describing the new research. “The active anomalies detected by Venus Express fall exactly where we had mapped these relatively young deposits and suggest ongoing activity.”

In 2010, infrared imaging of several volcanoes indicated that flow plains contained regions that were several thousand to a few million years old.  More recently, spikes in the atmospheric levels of Carbon Dioxide on Venus have been measured, also indicating recent volcanic activity.  Combining the observations of Venus Express with those of the older missions Magellan and Venera, the evidence is mounting for a geologically active Venus.

If true, volcanoes could provide a mechanism for the runaway greenhouse effect that powers the hottest planet in the solar system.  Did millions of years of volcanic activity spew the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, engineering a harsh environment for any would-be interlopers?  Only time, and science, will tell.


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