Venus found to be more geologically active than previously believed

NASA plans two missions to Venus

NASA aims for two new missions to Venus to learn more about the ‘lost habitable’ world; former NASA astronaut Tom Jones provides insight on ‘CAVUTO Live.’

Planetary scientists have reportedly found that the crust of Venus is fragmented and that its surface shows evidence of tectonic motion.

The findings could indicate that the second planet from the sun – sometimes called the Earth’s “twin” – is still geologically active as well as potentially provide further insight into tectonic activity on exoplanets and at home.

In a summary of the research, which was released Monday and has been published in the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), the international authors wrote that they had identified a pattern of tectonic deformation suggesting that many of the hellish planet’s lowlands have fragmented into “discrete crustal blocks,” which have moved relative to each other in the geologically recent past. 

“These motions may be the result of mantle convection and, if so, constitute a style of interior–surface coupling not seen elsewhere in the inner Solar System except for continental interiors on Earth,” they said. “Venus’ fragmented, mobile lithosphere may offer a framework for understanding how tectonics on Earth operated in the Archean.”

The Archean Eon is the earlier of two divisions of Precambrian time and the period when life first formed on Earth about 4 billion years ago.

In May, at NASA Administrator Bill Nelson’s first State of NASA address, the agency announced two groundbreaking missions to Venus after decades of focusing efforts elsewhere. 

VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy) will examine the surface in the hopes of determining why the planet “developed so differently than Earth,” while DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry and Imaging) will study the planet’s atmosphere, which could shed light on whether Venus once had an ocean.

Last week, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced it had selected the EnVision Venus orbiter with a similar goal.

Byrne said comparing new data with previous research like what was acquired in the decades-old Magellan mission would help build on the “overall picture” that indicates “Venus is probably alive and its heart is beating today.” 

“If we’re right – and I think we are – I want other people to go and … there’s still something to pull out of Magellan but we need new data, both high resolution and the kind of data we’ll get from Magellan or from Mission VERITAS is going to show us stuff we didn’t even think to look for,” he added. “I mean, it’s going to be amazing.” 

“Imagine if you had to study the geology of Earth from satellite imagery, but each pixel was the size of a football stadium. That’s roughly the resolution of radar images that we currently have at Venus. You would have a hard time seeing even some major fault lines like the San Andreas,” James said. 

“VERITAS will give us new imagery with house-sized pixels, about 10 times better than what we currently have. This is exciting because we will almost certainly find new faults to refine our understanding of Venus’ tectonics,” he remarked.

Byrne highlighted that seeing things under new resolution and with fresh eyes after so many years would be extremely important to understanding more, noting that bands of structures and belts on the planet with side-to-side motion had yet to have been recognized and that his team had run mantle computer models in order to approximate how strong Venus’ crust is.

In doing so, he said that – like Earth’s plates shift due to interior motion – Venus’ fragments were shifting but with a different style.


“But the actual process was, we were a group already working on projects together and we would spend time looking at these images going, ‘Well, that’s weird,'” joked Byrne.

The next steps, according to Byrne, are to continue detailed mapping of particular locations and even more extensive computer modeling. 

But, he said, the most important thing is to devise a set of questions to address the new mission data.

“Strategically, this research is positioning Baylor to be involved with upcoming spacecraft missions. Venus is becoming a bigger priority for space agencies around the world, and we’re plugged in to the exciting science opportunities that are on the horizon,” James said in the Monday release.

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