Scientists have always suspected that Venus had explosive secrets hidden beneath. Now, scientists have found an active volcano on the planet. And the evidence comes from a very old spacecraft!
Venus is often called Earth’s twin because it’s almost the same size and it’s made of a similar mix of elements. Unfortunately, Venus is completely covered in thick bands of clouds, so the only way to see the surface is to send a spaceship, packed with special instruments.
While planning the new VERITAS mission to Venus, scientist Robert Herrick wondered if there was anything interesting hiding in the scans from old missions. He spent 200 hours of going through records from the Magellan mission from 30 years ago. Magellan spent 4 years scanning and rescanning Venus with powerful radar sensors. And in those scans, Robert found something very interesting.
Near one of Venus’s largest volcanoes, Maat Mons, Robert noticed a volcanic crater that changed its shape between February and October 1991. In the February photo, the Maat Mons vent looked like a circle. The radar photo taken in October showed that the vent had grown almost twice its size in February and was no longer round. It also seemed to be full of lava.
Unfortunately, the radar scanner on Magellan wasn’t as accurate as a regular camera. Plus, the images were taken from different angles, which made comparing them a bit tricky. To make sure that the Magellan images really showed volcanic activity, Robert teamed up with Scott Hensley to simulate how the crater could look from every possible angle. None of the simulated scans matched the October photo, so the changes in the vent’s shape could only be caused by volcanic activity.
“While this is just one data point for an entire planet, it confirms there is modern geological activity.” Scott said, excited to find out more about Venus in the upcoming VERITAS mission.
Scott estimates that he’s only checked about 2% of Magellan’s scans so far. Imagine what else could be hiding in those scans!