Volcanology of Venus
The surface of Venus is dominated by volcanic features and has more volcanoes than any other planet in the solar system. It has a surface that is 90% basalt, and about 65% of the planet consists of a mosaic of volcanic lava plains, indicating that volcanism played a major role in shaping its surface. There are more than 1000 volcanic structures and possible periodic resurfacing of Venus by floods of lava. The planet may have had a major global resurfacing event about 500 million years ago, from what scientists can tell from the density of impact craters on the surface. Venus has a carbon dioxide rich atmosphere, with a density that is 90 times greater than Earth. Even though there are over 1,600 major volcanoes on Venus, none are known to be erupting at present and most are probably long extinct. However, radar sounding by the Magellan probe revealed evidence for comparatively recent volcanic activity at Venus's highest volcano Maat Mons, in the form of ash flows near the summit and on the northern flank. Although many lines of evidence suggest that Venus is likely to be volcanically active, present-day eruptions at Maat Mons have not been confirmed. In April 2010, Suzanne E. Smrekar et al. announced the discovery of three active volcanoes, which suggests that Venus is periodically resurfaced by lava flows.
Types of volcanoes
Venus contains shield volcanoes, widespread lava flows and some unusual volcanoes called pancake domes and "tick-like" structures which are not present on Earth. Pancake dome volcanoes are up to 15 km (9.3 mi) in diameter and less than 1 km (0.62 mi) in height and are 100 times larger than those formed on Earth. They are usually associated with coronae and tesserae (large regions of highly deformed terrain, folded and fractured in two or three dimensions, believed to be unique to Venus). The pancakes are thought to be formed by highly viscous, silica-rich lava erupting under Venus's high atmospheric pressure.
The "tick-like" structures are called scalloped margin domes. They are commonly called ticks because they appear as domes with numerous legs. They are thought to have undergone mass wasting events such as landslides on their margins. Sometimes deposits of debris can be seen scattered around them.
On Earth, volcanoes are mainly of two types: shield volcanoes and composite or stratovolcanoes. The shield volcanoes, for example those in Hawaii, eject magma from the depths of the Earth in zones called hot spots. The lava from these volcanos is relatively fluid and permits the escape of gases. Composite volcanos, such as Mount Saint Helens and Mount Pinatubo, are associated with tectonic plates. In this type of volcano, the oceanic crust of one plate is sliding underneath the other in a subduction zone, together with an inflow of seawater, producing a gummier lava that restricts the exit of the gases, and for that reason, composite volcanoes tend to erupt more violently.
On Venus, where there are no tectonic plates or seawater, volcanoes are mostly of the shield type. Nevertheless, the morphology of volcanoes on Venus is different: on Earth, shield volcanoes can be a few tens of kilometres wide and up to 10 km (6.2 mi) high in the case of Mauna Kea, measured from the sea floor. On Venus, these volcanoes can cover hundreds of kilometres in area, but they are relatively flat, with an average height of 1.5 km (0.93 mi). Large volcanoes cause the Venusian lithosphere to flex downward because of their enormous vertical loads, producing flexural moats and/or ring fractures around the edifices [McGovern and Solomon, 1998]. Large volcano edifice loading also causes magma chambers to fracture in a sill-like pattern, affecting magma propagation beneath the surface.
Other unique features of Venus's surface are novae (radial networks of dikes or grabens) and arachnoids. A nova is formed when large quantities of magma are extruded onto the surface to form radiating ridges and trenches which are highly reflective to radar. These dikes form a symmetrical network around the central point where the lava emerged, where there may also be a depression caused by the collapse of the magma chamber.
Arachnoids are so named because they resemble a spider's web, featuring several concentric ovals surrounded by a complex network of radial fractures similar to those of a nova. It is not known whether the 250 or so features identified as arachnoids actually share a common origin, or are the result of different geological processes.
Recent volcanic activity
Volcanism on Venus has taken place within the last 2.5 million years; however, there is no absolute proof that any volcano on Venus has erupted recently. Recent radar imagery shows more than 1,000 volcanic structures and evidence of possible periodic resurfacing of the planet by floods of lava. In addition to the radar images, there is supporting evidence that volcanism has taken place, including an unusual change in the amount of sulphur dioxide gas in the upper atmosphere has also occurred. Sulphur dioxide is an important component of volcanic outgassing. However, the sulphur dioxide in the lower atmosphere remains stable. This could mean that a change in the global atmosphere caused the sulphur dioxide concentration to increase above the clouds. Even though the change in the atmosphere may be evidence that there have been volcanoes that erupted in Venus, it is difficult to determine whether they occurred or not.
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- D.L. Bindschadler (1995). "Magellan: A new view of Venus' geology and geophysics". American Geophysical Union. Retrieved 2007-09-13.
- Volcanoes on Venus Retrieved on 2007-08-18
- Smrekar, Suzanne E.; Stofan, Ellen R.; Mueller, Nils; Treiman, Allan; Elkins-Tanton, Linda; Helbert, Joern; Piccioni, Giuseppe; Drossart, Pierre, "Recent Hot-Spot Volcanism on Venus from VIRTIS Emissivity Data", Science, Forthcoming, Bibcode:2010Sci...328..605S, doi:10.1126/science.1186785.
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- A New Episode of Volcanism on Venus. ESA: Science and technology. December 2, 2012