Venus and Earth have several things in common. Both are terrestrial planets composed of silicate minerals and metals that are differentiated between a rocky mantle and crust and a metal core. Like Earth, Venus orbits within our Sun’s circumsolar habitable zone (HZ), though Venus skirts the inner edge of it. And according to a growing body of evidence, Venus has active volcanoes on its surface that contribute to atmospheric phenomena (like lightning). However, that’s where the similarities end, and some rather stark differences set in.
In addition to Venus’ hellish atmosphere, which is about 100 times as dense as Earth’s and hot enough to melt lead, Venus has a very “youthful” surface. Compared to other bodies in the Solar System (like Mercury, the Moon, and Mars), Venus’ surface retains little evidence of the many bolides impacts it experienced over billions of years. According to new research from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and Yale University, this may result from bolide impacts that provided a high-energy, rejuvenating boost to the planet in its early years.
In 2015, Russian-Israeli billionaire Yuri Milner and his non-profit organization, Breakthrough Initiatives, launched the largest Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project. Known as Breakthrough Listen, this SETI effort relies on the most powerful radio telescopes in the world and advanced analytics to search for potential evidence of technological activity (aka. “technosignatures”). The ten-year project will survey the one million stars closest to Earth, the center of our galaxy, the entire galactic plane, and the 100 galaxies closest to the Milky Way.
In 2018, they partnered with the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (VERITAS) Collaboration, a ground-based system of gamma-ray telescopes operating at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory (FLWO) atop Mt. Hopkins in southern Arizona. In a recent paper, the VERITAS Collaboration shared the results of the first year of their search for “optical technosignatures” (from 2019 to 2020). Their results are a vital proof of concept demonstrating how future searches for extraterrestrial civilizations can incorporate optical pulses into their technosignature catalog.
Using archival radar images taken in the 1990s by NASA’s Magellan spacecraft, scientists have found evidence of recent active volcanism on Venus. The images revealed a volcanic vent that changed shape and increased significantly in size over an eight-month period.
The scientists say their findings confirm long-held suspicions that the planet, which is known to have a very geologically young surface and evidence of past volcanic eruptions, is still active today.
“We made the discovery in the most likely place that there should have been new volcanism,” said Robert Herrick, a geophysicist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, speaking at a briefing on March 15, 2023 from the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas. “Extrapolating from a data set of one for an entire planet could be dangerous, but most scientists would say it’s pretty good evidence that being able to catch an eruption in an eight-month time frame means that others are taking place as well. It confirms there is modern geological activity on Venus.”
We’re lucky to have a neighbour like Venus, even though it’s totally inhospitable, wildly different from the other rocky planets, and difficult to study. Its thick atmosphere obscures its surface, and only powerful radar can penetrate it. Its extreme atmospheric pressure and high temperatures are barriers to landers or rovers.
It’s like having a mysterious exoplanet next door.
Is there anything good about volcanoes? They can be violent, dangerous, and unpredictable. For modern humans, volcanoes are mostly an inconvenience, sometimes an intriguing visual display, and occasionally deadly.
But when there’s enough of them, and when they’re powerful and prolonged, they can kill the planet that hosts them.
We recently examined how and why Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, could answer the longstanding question: Are we alone? It’s the only moon that possesses a thick atmosphere and the only planetary body other than Earth (so far) that has liquid bodies on its surface. These characteristics alone make Titan an enticing location to search for life beyond Earth. In contrast, what if life were to be found in one of the unlikeliest of places and on a planet that is known to possess some of the harshest conditions ever observed?
The planet Venus is one of the most inexplainable and mysterious planetary objects in our solar system as its surface is beyond inhospitable for us fragile humans with temperatures at a searing 475 degrees Celsius (900 degrees Fahrenheit) and surface pressures more than 90 times that of Earth. However, its atmosphere is quite a different story as its temperature varies considerably ranging from -143 degrees Celsius (-226 degrees Fahrenheit) at night to 37 degrees Celsius (98 degrees Fahrenheit) in the daytime, and varies based on altitude, as well.
Planets move in mysterious ways. Or at least their surfaces do. Earth famously has a system of tectonic plates that drives the movement of its crust. Those plate tectonics are ultimately driven by the flow of material in the mantle – the layer directly below the crust. Now, scientists have found a slightly different deformation mechanic on our nearest sister planet – Venus.
It’s an exciting time to be a Venus watcher. Our sister planet, which has been the target of only one mission since the 1980s, is now the focus of not one, not two, but three missions from NASA and ESA. Combined, they promise to give the closest look ever at the Morning Star, and some of the processes that might have made such a similar world so different from our own.
The discovery of phosphine in the upper clouds in Venus’ atmosphere has generated a lot of excitement. On Earth, phosphine is produced biologically, so it’s a sign of life. If it’s not produced by life, it takes an enormous amount of energy to be created abiologically.
On other planets like Jupiter, there’s enough energy to produce phosphine, so finding it there isn’t surprising. But on a small rocky world like Venus, where there’s no powerful source of energy, its existence is surprising.