Scientists count 85,000 (!) Volcanoes on Earth’s infernal sister

Scientists count 85,000 (!) Volcanoes on Earth’s infernal sister

And this is just the beginning. There are probably many more volcanoes waiting to be discovered on this planet – which is roughly the same size as Earth.

Scientists recently found convincing, direct evidence that a volcano on Venus erupted quite recently, sometime in the past 30 years. A curious discovery that proves that Venus is still geologically active. Astronomers were delighted. Even scientists at the University of Washington decided to build on this discovery and determine how many volcanoes Venus has and where it is located. It results in a very wide map showing about 85,000 (!) volcanoes. “With the recent discovery of active volcanoes on Venus, a better understanding of where those volcanoes are concentrated, how many there are, how big they are, etc. has become even more important,” said researcher Rebecca Hahn, explaining the importance of this. Enormous map.

The researchers created the map using radar images taken by NASA’s Magellan space probe. The unmanned space probe was launched in 1989 and settled into orbit around Venus in 1990. Between 1990 and 1994, the probe then accurately mapped the surface of Venus using radar. And in the 90s, thanks to Magellan, many more volcanoes were discovered. But a map showing all the volcanoes Magellan spotted is still missing. Byrne and Han are now changing that, with the help of computer software that wasn’t available in the 1990s.

Volcanoes are everywhere
First of all, the new map shows where volcanoes are located. Hence it becomes clear that they can be found on the entire surface of Venus. In addition, the size of volcanoes is also indicated. For example, volcanoes between 20 and 100 km in diameter appear to be less represented than smaller volcanoes; Volcanoes less than 5 km in diameter are most abundant on the surface of Venus. “In fact, they are the most abundant volcanoes on the planet,” Hahn says of these young volcanoes. “They make up about 99 percent of our data set.”

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The new map of the surface of Venus shows about 85,000 volcanoes. Photo: Rebecca Hahn, Washington University in St. Louis.

Although the map itself naturally appeals to the imagination, researchers mainly see it as a precursor to more. For example, it can be used to learn more about Venus and its volcanoes. “We’ve already heard from colleagues that they downloaded the data and started analyzing it,” says researcher Paul Byrne. “And that’s exactly what we wanted (…) I’m very curious about what they can find out with this new database.”

3D model of the Maat Mons volcano on Venus. It was established that this volcano erupted as recently as last month. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

New volcanic eruptions
With recent research already showing that Venus is still geologically active, researchers can use the new map, for example, to look for new traces of recent volcanic eruptions. “This new database allows scientists to think about where else to look for evidence of recent geological activity,” Byrne said. Once they spot an important volcano, they can compare radar images Magellan took of that volcano at different times to see if an eruption occurred in the meantime. And the chances of detecting the recent eruptions will increase if space probes return to Venus to map the surface in radar in the future. In this case, these new images can also be compared with Magellan’s photographs of the surface of Venus between 1990 and 1994.

Other research questions
In addition, researchers may also be able to begin to answer other pressing questions on the basis of the dataset. “Other people will come up with questions that we haven’t thought of yet,” Byrne predicts. Questions about the shape, size, and distribution of volcanoes or the timing of volcanic activity in different parts of the planet.

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With 85,000 volcanoes, there is still a lot to explore when it comes to geological activity on Venus in the near future. In fact, Byrne and Hahn are almost certain that there are volcanoes still waiting to be discovered on Venus. “A volcano with a diameter of 1 km is about 7 pixels wide in the Magellan data, so it’s very difficult to see,” Hahn says. “But with the improved resolution, we should be able to see those smaller structures as well.” The service is provided to researchers under the supervision and invitation of the latter, because the European Space Agency will send an EnVision space probe to Venus in 2031. In addition to studying the atmosphere of Venus, the probe must also map the surface of the planet using radar with high accuracy. Meanwhile, NASA is working on Veritas. This probe should determine the trajectory of Venus in 2029 and also make new radar images of the surface of Venus, among other things. “With these images, we will be able to search for smaller volcanoes that we expect are already there,” Byrne said.

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