NASA’s Magellan Data reveals recent volcanic activity on Venus again

A computer-simulated view of the volcano Sif Mons on Venus, which showed volcanic activity between 1990 and 1992
A computer-simulated view of the volcano Sif Mons on Venus, which showed volcanic activity between 1990 and 1992. (Image credit: NASA/JPL)

Scientists have discovered recent volcanic activity on Venus for the second time using data from NASA’s Magellan spacecraft.

NASA’s Magellan spacecraft was launched on May 4, 1989, and arrived in Venus orbit on August 10, 1990. The spacecraft mapped 98% of Venus surface between 1990 and 1992. The spacecraft ceased operations on October 13, 1994, as it was commanded to plunge into the Venusian atmosphere.

The spacecraft carried the most advanced synthetic aperture radar (SAR). This radar emitted radio waves that traveled through Venus’ thick cloud cover, then bounced off the planet’s surface and back to the spacecraft. These reflected radio waves carried information about the Venus surface they encountered. 

In the new study, scientists have analyzed the Magellan radar’s archival data received from the volcano Sif Mons in the Eistla Regio and the western part of Niobe Planiti.

They found that there was a variation in the strength of radar signals received from both locations in 1990 and again in 1992.

These changes suggested the formation of new rock, most likely solidified lava, from volcanic activity that occurred during that two-year period.

One of the co-authors of the study, Marco Mastrogiuseppe of Sapienza University of Rome, said in a statement:

“We interpret these signals as flows along slopes or volcanic plains that can deviate around obstacles such as shield volcanoes like a fluid. After ruling out other possibilities, we confirmed our best interpretation is that these are new lava flows.”

Researchers estimate the height of the solidified lava that covers both locations to be between 10 and 66 feet (3 and 20 meters) on average.

They also estimate that the eruption from Sif Mons created about 30 square kilometers of solidified lava (new rock), which is enough to fill at least 36,000 Olympic swimming pools, and the eruption from the Niobe Planitia created about 45 square kilometers of solidified lava, which is enough to fill 54,000 Olympic swimming pools.

We’ll learn more about volcanic activity on Venus when NASA launches the VERITAS mission to Venus early next decade.

A scientific paper has been published on the above findings in the journal Nature Astronomy on May 27, 2024. This is:

Evidence of ongoing volcanic activity on Venus revealed by Magellan radar.

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Ashim Chandra Sarkar founded Space & Telescope in 2022. He holds a M.Sc. in physics and has five years of research experience in optical astronomy. His passion for astronomy inspired him to open this website. He is responsible for the editorial vision of spaceandtelescope.com.

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