We now have a map of all 85,000 volcanoes on Venus

A new map, created using decades-old radar images from NASA’s Magellan mission from the 1990s, shows the locations of a whopping 85,000 volcanoes on Venus. The detailed map shows where the volcanoes are located, how they are grouped, and how their distribution compares to other geophysical features of the planet, such as. B. the crust thickness cuts off.

This comprehensive study of Venus will help planetary scientists answer many unanswered questions about the planet’s geological history, such as why doesn’t it have plate tectonics like Earth? Has it ever been habitable and if so for how long?

Sapas Mons, a large volcano on Venus, is about 400 km in diameter. It was imaged by the Magellan spacecraft, with a light source coming from the left side of the image. (Image courtesy of JGR Planets)

This is the second major find from archival data from the Magellan mission, as just a few weeks ago scientists announced they had found evidence of recently active volcanism on Venus. The authors of this new article, graduate student Rebecca Hahn and Paul Byrne, associate professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, both from Washington University in St. Louis, say their new map can help locate the next active lava flow on Venus , and more.

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“This paper provides researchers with an enormously valuable database for understanding volcanism on this planet – an important planetary process, but for Venus is something we know very little about despite it being a world about the size of ours.” own,” Byrne said in a press release.

It has long been known that volcanism was a large, widespread process on Venus. And even if 85,000 volcanoes on Venus sounds like a large number, Hahn said it’s probably a conservative number. She believes there are hundreds of thousands of additional geological features, some volcanic features, lurking on Venus’ surface. However, they are simply too small to have been detected by Magellan’s synthetic aperture radar (SAR).

Creating this global map was tedious work as Hahn trawled through Magellan’s radar scans of the planets. Byrne said on Twitter that this took years of work from Hahn. But she also used new technologies.

“It was tedious, but I had experience with the ArcGIS software that I used to create the map,” Hahn said. “This tool was not available when this data first became available in the 1990s. We came up with the idea of ​​compiling a global catalog because nobody has done it on this scale before.”

Image of “pancake volcanoes” in the Eistla region taken by the Magellan spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL

Working with the data, the researchers found that Venus hosts thousands of volcanic landforms spread across virtually the entire planet. The size of the volcanoes ranges from less than 5 km (3 miles) to well over 100 km (60 miles) in diameter. However, 99% of Venus’ volcanoes are less than 5 km (3 miles) in diameter.

“Although there are volcanoes on almost the entire surface of the planet, there appear to be relatively fewer volcanoes in the 20-100 km range [12-60 mile] Diameter range that may be a function of magma availability and eruption rate,” the researchers wrote in their paper – (which can be read online for free until early May 2023).

While Venus is almost the same size and composition as Earth, it does not have plate tectonics, so all of Venus’ internal heat is likely exiting through its volcanoes.

What is the number of volcanoes on Venus compared to Earth? There are currently about 1,350 potentially active volcanoes on Earth, but the amount beneath the ocean is not well known. We also don’t know how many volcanoes have been active throughout Earth’s history. Of course, Venus is devoid of oceans and weathering to alter the planet’s surface. But we do know that more than 80 percent of the earth’s surface – above and below sea level – is volcanic.

The new data set of Venusian volcanoes is hosted at Washington University and is publicly available to other scientists.

“We’ve already heard from colleagues that they’ve downloaded the data and are starting to analyze it – that’s what we want,” Byrne said. “Other people will ask questions that we don’t have, about volcano shape, size, distribution, timing of activity in different parts of the planet, whatever. I’m excited to see what they can find out with the new database!”

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