Researchers have obtained new information showing what looks to be hot lava flowing along some areas in neighboring planet Venus.
The Venus Express spacecraft, which is the European Space Agency's (ESA) first exploration mission to Venus, sent back photos from hotspots along the rift zone Ganiki Chasma in Atla Regio near the volcanoes Ozza Mons and Maat Mons. The photos, captured a few days apart, signified relative changes in brightness.
Rift zones are formed when the crust stretches due to internal forces, causing hot magma to flow to the surface. Venus is one of the hotter planets, being closer to the sun compared with the rest of the planets in our solar system.
Brown University geologist James W. Head and his Russian colleague Mikhail Ivanov mapped Ganiki Chasma as part of a global geologic map of Venus via the Soviet Venera missions in the 1980s and U.S. Magellan mission in the 1990s. This projected the region to be young, but with no accuracy as to how young exactly.
Head and his team believe that the rift zone has resulted from a geologically recent volcanic activity that may be continuing.
Photos by the ESA revealed this ongoing activity, showing changes in between days the photos were taken: red orange signified an increase and blue purple a decrease.
In 2010, data captured by infrared imaging from several volcanoes showed lava flow occurring from thousands to as far back as a few million years ago. A few years after the 2010 discovery, researchers found volcanism to be potentially active, due to spikes in sulfur dioxide in the planet's upper atmosphere. Sulfur dioxide is known to be naturally released by volcanic activities.
The research was conducted by an international team of planetary scientists, led by Eugene Shalygin and Wojciech Markiewicz of the Max Planck Institute. Additional co-authors were Alexander Basilevski (Russia's Vernadsky Institute and Brown University), Dima Titov (ESA) and N.I. Ignatiev (Russia's Space Research Institute).
"This discovery fits nicely with the emerging picture of very recent activity in Venus' geologic history. These remarkable findings were the result of collaborations spanning many years and many political borders. They underscore the importance of international collaboration in exploring our solar system and understanding how it evolves," Head stated.
Head wrote about these findings on Geophysical Research Letters.