Recent research has unveiled that Venus, often referred to as Earth’s sister planet, is home to a far greater number of volcanoes than previously believed. In a groundbreaking study, scientists Rebecca Hahn and Paul Byrne of Washington University in St. Louis have discovered around 85,000 volcanoes dotting the Venusian surface, a staggering 50 times more than previously estimated. This revelation, based on radar images taken by NASA’s Magellan spacecraft in the 1990s, has the potential to offer vital insights into the planet’s interior and volcanic activity.
The Magellan spacecraft’s radar images provided researchers with a comprehensive view of Venus’ volcanic landscape. Hahn and Byrne’s findings suggest that most of the Venusian volcanoes are less than 5 kilometers wide, with about 700 spanning 5 to 100 kilometers and approximately 100 measuring over 100 kilometers in diameter. The researchers also identified numerous volcanic fields, characterized by tight clusters of small volcanoes.
This detailed map of Venus’ volcanism, published in the April edition of JGR Planets, could be key to understanding the planet’s interior and magma production hotspots. Furthermore, the recent confirmation of Venus’ volcanic activity means this inventory may help locate sites of potential future eruptions.
Interestingly, the study reveals that there may be a better understanding of the number of volcanoes on Venus than on Earth. According to Byrne, many of Earth’s volcanoes are likely hidden beneath the oceans, making accurate estimates difficult. He also believes that the Magellan data may not provide a complete picture of Venus’ volcanic activity. While the spacecraft could detect features as small as 1 kilometer in diameter, Earth is known to have many volcanoes smaller than that, a fact that may also apply to Venus.
Fortunately, upcoming space missions may soon uncover more details about the Venusian surface. NASA’s VERITAS spacecraft and the European Space Agency’s EnVision mission are scheduled to focus their advanced technology on Venus within the next decade. These missions, equipped with sharper imaging capabilities, will potentially reveal even more information about our neighboring planet’s turbulent and enigmatic landscape.
R.M. Hahn and P.K. Byrne. A morphological and spatial analysis of volcanoes on Venus. JGR Planets. Published online March 24, 2023. doi: 10.1029/2023JE007753.