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.
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, Verrières-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 sulphur dioxide 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 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.
Håkan Svedhem | EurekAlert!
Breaking the optical bandwidth record of stable pulsed lasers
24.01.2017 | Institut national de la recherche scientifique - INRS
European XFEL prepares for user operation: Researchers can hand in first proposals for experiments
24.01.2017 | European XFEL GmbH
A Swedish-German team of researchers has cleared up a key process for the artificial production of silk. With the help of the intense X-rays from DESY's...
For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.
According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
24.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.01.2017 | Life Sciences
24.01.2017 | Health and Medicine