Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Search For Active Volcanoes On Venus In High Gear

Date:
April 8, 2008
Source:
European Space Agency
Summary:
ESA's Venus Express has measured a highly variable quantity of the volcanic gas sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere of Venus. Scientists must now decide whether this is evidence for active volcanoes on Venus, or linked to a hitherto unknown mechanism affecting the upper atmosphere.

Venus Express is the first mission ever to apply the technique of stellar occultation at Venus. The technique consists of looking at the Sun through the atmospheric limb. By analysing the way the sunlight is absorbed by the atmosphere, one can deduce the characteristics of the atmosphere itself.
Credit: ESA

ESA’s Venus Express has measured a highly variable quantity of the volcanic gas sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere of Venus. Scientists must now decide whether this is evidence for active volcanoes on Venus, or linked to a hitherto unknown mechanism affecting the upper atmosphere.

The search for volcanoes is a long-running thread in the exploration of Venus. “Volcanoes are a key part of a climate system,” says Fred Taylor, a Venus Express Interdisciplinary Scientist from Oxford University. That’s because they release gases such as sulphur dioxide into the planet’s atmosphere.

On Earth, sulphur compounds do not stay in the atmosphere for long. Instead, they react with the surface of the planet. The same is thought to be true at Venus, although the reactions are much slower, with a time scale of 20 million years.

Some scientists have argued that the large proportion of sulphur dioxide found by previous space missions at Venus is the ‘smoking gun’ of recent volcanic eruptions. However, others maintain that the eruptions could have happened around 10 million years ago and that the sulphur dioxide remains in the atmosphere because it takes such a long time to react with the surface rocks.  

New observations from Venus Express showing rapid variations of sulphur dioxide in the upper atmosphere have revived this debate.

The SPICAV (Spectroscopy for Investigation of Characteristics of the Atmosphere of Venus) instrument analyses the way starlight or sunlight is absorbed by Venus’s atmosphere. The absorbed light tells scientists the identity of the atoms and molecules found in the planet’s atmosphere. This technique works only in the more tenuous upper atmosphere, above the clouds at an altitude of 70–90 km. In the space of a few days, the quantity of sulphur dioxide in the upper atmosphere dropped by two-thirds.

Jean-Loup Bertaux, Service d’Aeronomie du CNRS, Verriθres-le-Buisson, is the Principal Investigator for SPICAV. “I am very sceptical about the volcanic hypothesis,” he says. “However, I must admit that we don’t understand yet why there is so much SO2 at high altitudes, where it should be destroyed rapidly by solar light, and why it is varying so wildly.”

Another instrument on Venus Express, VIRTIS (Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer), can see below the clouds at infrared wavelengths. It detects the signature of sulphur dioxide by the amount of infrared radiation that the molecule absorbs, the stronger the signature, the more abundant the molecule.

The variation appears to be smaller in the lower atmosphere. ”With VIRTIS, we monitor sulphur dioxide at an altitude of 35–40 km, and we have seen no change larger than 40% on a global scale over the last two years,” says Giuseppe Piccioni, VIRTIS co-Principal Investigator, IASF-INAF in Rome.

The only way to be absolutely certain that active volcanism is taking place on Venus is to see a volcano in action. This is not easy when you are trying to look through 100 km of thick, cloudy atmosphere. But the Venus Express team are working on two ways of doing this. The first is to look for localised increases in sulphur dioxide that would indicate a large plume of the gas issuing from a volcano. The other way is to look for hot spots on the surface that can be shown to be fresh lava flows.

In both cases, the instrument to use is VIRTIS. “No thermal anomaly has been detected so far,” says Pierre Drossart, Observatoire de Paris, France, and co-Principal Investigator on VIRTIS. Nevertheless, the search continues and the team plan to announce their findings soon.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by European Space Agency. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

European Space Agency. "Search For Active Volcanoes On Venus In High Gear." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 April 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080404114325.htm>.
European Space Agency. (2008, April 8). Search For Active Volcanoes On Venus In High Gear. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080404114325.htm
European Space Agency. "Search For Active Volcanoes On Venus In High Gear." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080404114325.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

French Apple Fans Discover the Apple Watch

French Apple Fans Discover the Apple Watch

AFP (Sep. 30, 2014) — Apple fans in France discover the latest toy, the Apple Watch. The watch comes in two sizes and an array of interchangeable, fashionable wrist straps. Duration: 00:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Water You Drink Might Be Older Than The Sun

The Water You Drink Might Be Older Than The Sun

Newsy (Sep. 27, 2014) — Researchers at the University of Michigan simulated the birth of planets and our sun to determine whether water in the solar system predates the sun. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
First Woman Cosmonaut in 17 Years Blasts Off for ISS

First Woman Cosmonaut in 17 Years Blasts Off for ISS

AFP (Sep. 26, 2014) — A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts, including the first woman cosmonaut in 17 years, blasted off on schedule Friday. Duration: 00:35 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Water Discovery On Small Planet Could Be Key To Earth 2.0

Water Discovery On Small Planet Could Be Key To Earth 2.0

Newsy (Sep. 25, 2014) — Scientists have discovered traces of water in the atmosphere of a distant, Neptune-sized planet. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins