Scientists have discovered evidence of recent volcanic activity on the surface of Venus! Analyzing data from NASA’s Magellan mission, which orbited Venus during the 1990s, a volcanic vent and nearby landscape showed significant changes in shape and size in less than a year.
Image: Altitude data for the Maat and Ozza Mons region on the Venus surface is shown at left, with the area of study indicated by the black box. At right are the before (A) and after (B) Magellan observations of the expanded vent on Maat Mons, with possible new lava flows after an eruptive event. Credit: Robert Herrick/UAF
The VERITAS mission, one of NASA’s future orbiter missions to Venus, will study the planet from surface to core. Short for Venus Emissivity, Radio science, InSAR, Topography, And Spectroscopy, VERITAS is planned to launch before 2030, with a mission length of 3 years – which will likely get extended if the orbiter is in good condition, and funding is available.
Robert Herrick, a research professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and member of the VERITAS science team, led the search of Magellan archival data; after some 200 hours of manually comparing the images from different Magellan orbit, he saw two images from the same region taken several months apart that showed signs of geological changes caused by a volcanic eruption.
The surface changes occurred in the Atla Regio – a highland region near Venus’ equator that is home to two of the planet’s largest volcanoes: Ozza Mons and Maat Mons. This region will be a prime target for future study by the VERITAS orbiter.
The VERITAS spacecraft will use advanced synthetic aperture radar to create 3D global maps of Venus’ surface, and will determine what the surface is made of using a near-infrared spectrometer. The spacecraft will also measure the planet’s gravitational field, and study the structure of Venus’ interior. These instruments will help scientists learn about the planet’s past and present geologic processes.
Magellan’s data back in the 1990’s was cumbersome to study, relying on boxes of CDs of Venus data that were delivered by mail; VERITAS’ data will be available online to the science community. This will enable researchers to apply techniques such as machine learning (a topic of the upcoming Vatican Observatory Summer School), to analyze the data; I’m fairly confident that the discoveries from the VERITAS mission will be abundant and frequent.
Source: NASA News Post March 15, 2023
About NASA’s Magellan Mission
Magellan was the first spacecraft to image the entire surface of Venus and made several discoveries about the planet. The Magellan probe was the first interplanetary mission to be launched from the Space Shuttle, the first mission to map the entire surface of Venus, and the first spacecraft to test aerobraking as a method for circularizing its orbit. Magellan was the fifth successful NASA mission to Venus, and it ended an eleven-year gap in U.S. interplanetary probe launches. It self-destructed in the Venusian atmosphere in 1994.
Image Credit: NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System WebApp
About NASA’s VERITAS Mission
VERITAS will return richly detailed radar maps of Venus’ surface, vastly improving the resolution of maps made by the Magellan mission in the 1990s.
VERITAS will also produce the first maps of surface rock composition and constrain surface weathering by peering through the planet’s dense atmosphere using spectral windows in the infrared portion of the EM spectrum. VERITAS will search for the thermal signatures of active volcanism and the chemical signatures of recent volcanism.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL – Caltech