Lava may be flowing from Venus volcano

New mapping, simulations point to cause of planet’s hot spot

Idunn Mons on Venus

HOT SPOT  Idunn Mons, a 2.5-kilometer-high volcano on Venus seen in this map from the Magellan spacecraft, might be currently active, a new study suggests.


PASADENA, Calif. — Venus is already known to host a hellish landscape with stifling temperature and suffocating pressure — and, a new study now hints, possibly rivers of lava oozing out of a volcano.

Several lava flows appear to be recently or currently active on a Venusian volcano known as Idunn Mons, planetary scientist Piero D’Incecco reported October 17 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences. Hot spots first detected by the Venus Express spacecraft, which orbited the planet from 2006 to 2015, had already hinted that the volcano might be active. But Venus guards its secrets tightly. Orbiters have trouble peering through the thick clouds that blanket the planet, and landers don’t last long because of the extreme environment.

Venus Express couldn’t see the source of the heat, so the researchers combined its data with maps from the Magellan spacecraft, which orbited from 1990 to 1994, and computer simulations to figure out how Idunn Mons could create the hot spots. D’Incecco, of the German Aerospace Center Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin, and colleagues deduced that five lava flows — one on top of the mountain and four running down the flanks — are responsible.

Researchers have long suspected that Venus is volcanically active, but don’t have any direct evidence yet (SN Online: 6/19/15). Testing whether Idunn Mons, or anywhere else, is belching lava will have to wait for future spacecraft. Both NASA and the European Space Agency are currently considering proposals for several Venus orbiters that could visit sometime in the next decade.   

Christopher Crockett is an Associate News Editor. He was formerly the astronomy writer from 2014 to 2017, and he has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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