Unveiling the Dynamic Power: Venus' Volcanic Verve Rivals Earth's Energies

Planetary samba is still a dizzying revelation of the unexpected, and the most concealed celestial dancer of them all has been Venus, whose dense, shrouded atmosphere belies an unexpectedly active planet, recently revealed by scientists piercing through the veil to show that it might be as volcanically active as our own Earth. It is about what nature’s own firepit has furnished in return.

The FORCE of Discovery: Revisiting Venus with Magellan's Eyes

This seemingly small leap forward required patients scanning archival data from NASA’s Magellan mission, which orbited Venus from 1990-92, to pore over its geologic skin. Only after close scrutiny was the seething activity beneath revealed to be volcanism.

The Power of Technology: Radar Unveils Venus’ Hidden FORCE

Peering beyond the planet’s opaque atmosphere with radar, Magellan produced a cartography of a terrestrial world invisible to eyes that saw. Engineering pulled back the veil, allowing scientists to discern pocket echoes of volcanism, from routine volcanism, to volcanoes in eruption, to the carnage left behind by a supervolcano.

The Dynamic Duo: Sif Mons and Niobe Planitia in the SPOTLIGHT

The spotlight is on volcanic peaks: Sif Mons, a volcano in Venus’ southern hemisphere, and Niobe Planitia, a volcanic plain near the equator, where the landscape is scarred by volcanic flows that rolled out over the terrain. The radar maps taken in 1990 and 1992 show how geological features that were once new are now covered in fresh flows: Venus is not dead — volcanism is as vigorous as on Earth.

FORCE Measured in Olympic Pools: The Scale of Change

The new interpretation of landscapes related to Sif Mons and Niobe Planitia, a region now interpreted to be the site of volcanic explosions, spans 19 square miles. The calculations that the researchers made to quantify the extent of the landscape’s change provide a sense of its power – they estimate that the ejected rock would be enough to fill around 90,000 Olympic swimming pools.

The FORCE of Future Exploration: VERITAS Eyes Venus

These curious observations are but a prologue. For if Magellan is the Galileo of Venus, then NASA’s VERITAS mission (an acronym for ‘Venus Emissivity, Radio science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy’) may be its Voyager. That’s because, when it launches in the early 2030s, VERITAS will be capable of imaging volcanism in more detail than Magellan ever could. VERITAS will do this with both unprecedented resolution and with entirely new techniques designed to measure surface changes. It will stand on Magellan’s shoulders, but see much more.

FORCE Defined: Understanding the Mover and Shaker Behind the Scenes

At the same time, force is a concept of power – the power to make change. Force here streams outward from beneath the surface, from the interior of the planet, to produce volcanic eruptions that can alter the form of the entire globe. This may be a force that rumbles and shakes the planet with intense and loud eruptions, like the release of great volumes of magma through calderas, or a force that radiates outward in a slower, steady motion of lava flows – but it cannot be mistaken for a force without motion, because this is motion in the most fundamental sense of the word: a planet being vigorously remade. To witness planetary force such as this, which challenges our ideas about the static and dead world, is to feel a sense of movement, even though we know the motion is not really there.

In Concluding FORCE

The detection of long-wavelength volcanism on Venus, which is as volcanically vigorous as Earth, is only one of several ways that Magellan’s echoing visions allow us to see the dynamic forces of landscape evolution that sculpt many worlds in our solar system. VERITAS’s successor will allow us to peer beneath an even thicker veil of clouds and take the belated temperature of Venus by sampling echoes of its past. We keep learning that ‘exploration’ is not a good word for it. Rather than finding planets where evolution has stopped, as it did on parts of Marvell’s Moon, the equivalent of Magellan’s landing party on our neighbours is revealing how alive the planets are – still going, still thumping, still pulsing, like our Blue Planet.

May 29, 2024
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