Astronomers Spot Epic Flows of Lava Oozing Out of Venus

Go With the Flows

Earth's hellish twin ain't dead yet. On Venus, where temperatures exceed 800 degrees Fahrenheit, astronomers have spotted two flows of lava crawling across the planet's barren surface, adding to a growing body of evidence that Venus is still volcanically active.

The research, published as a study in the journal Nature Astronomy, used decades-old radar images taken by NASA's Magellan spacecraft in 1990 and 1992, which in spite of their age, remain the most detailed images of the Venusian surface to date.

Both believed to be the aftermath of epic eruptions, one lava flow was found simmering near the mighty Sif Mons, a so-called shield volcano that spans nearly 200 miles across and is over a mile tall. The other was found in the Niobe Planitia, a region dominated by volcanic features.

"After you see something like this, the first reaction is 'wow,'" study co-author Davide Sulcanese at the Università d'Annunzio in Italy told The New York Times.

Back to Backscatter

Though the veritable hell-world is riddled with more volcanoes than any other in the solar system, proving that Venus is still governed by the same volcanic forces as Earth hasn't been easy.

The soaring hot temperatures on its surface, plus the insane pressures of its dense atmosphere, are too extreme for human-made probes to survive. But observing Venus from afar is difficult, too, as it's permanently shrouded in a haze of yellow, corrosive clouds.

During the two flybys it performed in the 1990s, the Magellan used radar to penetrate the atmosphere, producing what's known as backscatter data of the planet's topography. When the researchers examined the data sets, they found changes in certain regions that could be best explained by newly formed volcanic rock — suggesting that eruptions had taken place between imaging.

"We interpret these signals as flows along slopes or volcanic plains that can deviate around obstacles such as shield volcanoes like a fluid," said study co-author Marco Mastrogiuseppe of Sapienza University of Rome, in a NASA statement about the work.

Hot to Trot

And those eruptions must've been something to behold. According to the astronomers, the Sif Mons eruption spewed up about 12 square miles of molten rock, while the Niobe Planitia one managed even more with about 17 square miles.

This is the clearest sign of volcanic activity on the planet since a groundbreaking study in 2023 documented a widening of a volcanic vent called a caldera, according to the NASA statement.

But with this latest discovery, Sulcanese said it shows that the planet is not only geologically active, but "that the volcanic activity on Venus could be comparable to that on Earth."

That parallel could end up informing our understanding of Venus just as much as our own planet. Unless the Magellan data is hiding any more secrets, however, we'll have to wait for future missions to our neighbor in the Solar System before turning up hotter discoveries.

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