Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Venus Express reboots the search for active volcanoes on Venus

08.04.2008
ESA’s Venus Express has measured a highly variable quantity of the volcanic gas sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere of Venus. Scientists must now decide whether this is evidence for active volcanoes on Venus, or linked to a hitherto unknown mechanism affecting the upper atmosphere.

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.

“I am very sceptical about the volcanic hypothesis. However, I must admit that we don't understand yet why there is so much sulphur dioxide at high altitudes”

New observations from Venus Express showing rapid variations of sulphur dioxide in the upper atmosphere have revived this debate.

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.

Artist's impression of Venus Express
The variation appears to be smaller in the lower atmosphere. ”With VIRTIS, we monitor sulphur dioxide at an altitude of 35–40 km, and we have seen no change larger than 40% on a global scale over the last two years,” says Giuseppe Piccioni, VIRTIS co-Principal Investigator, IASF-INAF in Rome.

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.


For more information:

Jean-Loup Bertaux, SPICAV Principal Investigator
Service d'Aeronomie du CNRS
Email : Jean-Loup.Bertaux @ aerov.jussieu.fr
Giuseppe Piccioni, VIRTIS co-Principal Investigator
IASF-INAF, Rome, Italy
Email: Giuseppe.Piccioni @ iasf-roma.inaf.it
Pierre Drossart, VIRTIS co-Principal Investigator
Observatoire de Paris, France
Email: Pierre.Drossart @ obspm.fr
Håkan Svedhem, ESA Venus Express Project Scientist
Email : Hakan.Svedhem @ esa.int

Håkan Svedhem | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Venus_Express/SEMUNV5QGEF_0.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht The taming of the light screw
22.03.2019 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie

nachricht Magnetic micro-boats
21.03.2019 | Max-Planck-Institut für Polymerforschung

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The taming of the light screw

DESY and MPSD scientists create high-order harmonics from solids with controlled polarization states, taking advantage of both crystal symmetry and attosecond electronic dynamics. The newly demonstrated technique might find intriguing applications in petahertz electronics and for spectroscopic studies of novel quantum materials.

The nonlinear process of high-order harmonic generation (HHG) in gases is one of the cornerstones of attosecond science (an attosecond is a billionth of a...

Im Focus: Magnetic micro-boats

Nano- and microtechnology are promising candidates not only for medical applications such as drug delivery but also for the creation of little robots or flexible integrated sensors. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) have created magnetic microparticles, with a newly developed method, that could pave the way for building micro-motors or guiding drugs in the human body to a target, like a tumor. The preparation of such structures as well as their remote-control can be regulated using magnetic fields and therefore can find application in an array of domains.

The magnetic properties of a material control how this material responds to the presence of a magnetic field. Iron oxide is the main component of rust but also...

Im Focus: Self-healing coating made of corn starch makes small scratches disappear through heat

Due to the special arrangement of its molecules, a new coating made of corn starch is able to repair small scratches by itself through heat: The cross-linking via ring-shaped molecules makes the material mobile, so that it compensates for the scratches and these disappear again.

Superficial micro-scratches on the car body or on other high-gloss surfaces are harmless, but annoying. Especially in the luxury segment such surfaces are...

Im Focus: Stellar cartography

The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona released its first image of the surface magnetic field of another star. In a paper in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the PEPSI team presents a Zeeman- Doppler-Image of the surface of the magnetically active star II Pegasi.

A special technique allows astronomers to resolve the surfaces of faraway stars. Those are otherwise only seen as point sources, even in the largest telescopes...

Im Focus: Heading towards a tsunami of light

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have proposed a way to create a completely new source of radiation. Ultra-intense light pulses consist of the motion of a single wave and can be described as a tsunami of light. The strong wave can be used to study interactions between matter and light in a unique way. Their research is now published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

"This source of radiation lets us look at reality through a new angle - it is like twisting a mirror and discovering something completely different," says...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International Modelica Conference with 330 visitors from 21 countries at OTH Regensburg

11.03.2019 | Event News

Selection Completed: 580 Young Scientists from 88 Countries at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

01.03.2019 | Event News

LightMAT 2019 – 3rd International Conference on Light Materials – Science and Technology

28.02.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Laser processing is a matter for the head – LZH at the Hannover Messe 2019

25.03.2019 | Trade Fair News

A Varied Menu

25.03.2019 | Life Sciences

‘Time Machine’ heralds new era

25.03.2019 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>