Venus, the “lost habitable” world of our solar system, is now considered a dead planet surrounded by a highly toxic environment. But in 2020, Venus hit the headlines after the detection of phosphine – a colorless, flammable gas – on its clouds. Some anaerobic microbes on Earth produce such a gas, and its presence on Venus has sparked intense debate about the possibility of life on Earth’s sister planet.
While the claims are still strongly contested, the discovery has renewed interest in the exploration of Venus. As more and more astronomers turn their attention to Venus, mysterious but fascinating phenomena appear. For example, a new study has found evidence of tectonic movement occurring on the surface of Venus, suggesting that the planet may still be geologically active.
Deformation of the surface of Venus
The study documented geological activity through the movement of tectonic blocks residing in the crust of Venus. These huge blocks of planetary crust exhibited collision activity, meaning that the planet is still geologically active. It is believed that the flow of heat inside Venus triggered the movement.
Not only that, the soft inner movement also brought changes to the surface of Venus, which appears as a surface deformation. The researchers used computer modeling techniques as well as radar images from NASA’s Magellan mission launched in 1989 to map the Venus surface.
“These observations tell us that inner movement causes the surface to deform on Venus, much like it does on Earth. Plate tectonics on Earth are driven by convection in the mantle. The coat is hot or cold in different places. It moves, and part of that movement transfers to the Earth’s surface in the form of plate movement, ”says Paul Byrne, associate professor of planetary science at North Carolina State University and author. principal and co-correspondent of the work.
This phenomenon may also explain the tectonic deformation that occurs on planets outside our solar system and the geological process of young Earth at the age of 2.5 to 4 billion years.
Scientists have long assumed that Venus consists of a stationary lithosphere – a rigid, rocky outer shell – similar to those found on Mars or the Moon. This movement activity gave some hope for a better understanding of the planet. According to the study, it could also shed light on common traits of Earth’s sister planet as they ventured down different evolutionary paths.
The lithosphere, which includes the crust and the upper solid mantle, is where tectonic activities take place. On Earth, this upper layer rests on the warm mantle which behaves like a very viscous fluid.
While investigating images of the Venus Lowlands, the team noticed some areas where large chunks of the lithosphere exhibited some sort of moving activity. Surprisingly, the movement was similar to that of broken ice floes over a frozen lake – parting, pushing together, spinning and sliding against each other. It also suggests some of the recent geological activity on the planet.
“We know that much of Venus has resurfaced volcanically over time, so parts of the planet could be very young, geologically speaking. But several of the jostling boulders have formed and deformed these young plains of lava, which means that the lithosphere fragmented after the establishment of these plains, ”says Dr Byrne.
Post-formation deformations have led scientists to believe that at least some of these blocks may have moved “very recently, maybe even until today.” This study has opened up new possibilities for understanding the geological history of the planet.
Not to neglect anything, the American and European space agencies announced several interplanetary missions to explore Venus in the near future. Scientists believe the planet could have been habitable millions or billions of years ago, before it turned into hell.
The study was published in Acts of the National Academy of Sciences and is accessible here.