Eruption occuring on Venus?

Quick hit post from beautiful Walnut, Iowa, but this was too interesting to pass up...

Bright plume spotted on Venus, image taken by the ESA Venus Express.

Did a volcanic eruption recently occur on Venus? No one really knows, but a bright plume of unknown material was spotted by an amateur astronomer. One possible source for this plume might be a volcanic eruption. In the first articles, it was dismissed by "experts" because it is believed that Venus mostly has effusive (lava flow) eruptions not explosive eruptions that form big ash-laden plumes. However, basaltic eruptions on Earth (as it is presumed to occur on Venus) do release a lot of volcanic aerosols - possible more than classical explosive eruptions. Laki in Iceland had just such an eruption in 1783 ... just something to ponder when more information on the Venutian plume rolls in.

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I saw a piece on this a few days back, but didn't think to send you a heads up. I was a little dubious, but curious. Any idea if there are any active satellites that could possibly do high-enough resolution spectroscopy of Venus to look for potential aerosols? I'd guess that CO2 and H2O would be swamped by the atmosphere, as would sulfates. But perhaps Cl or F could be picked up and shown to be outside normal Venusian conditions.

Per a link to an online article at "New Scientist": "Two spectrometers on board Venus Express might help reveal the culprit. One directly measures the spectrum of light emanating from the planet, while the other can measure trace constituents in the atmosphere by measuring how gases there absorb sunlight."

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I'm not sure why people would assume a volcano was responsible for an atmospheric bright spot there, as on Earth volcanic plumes are often distinguishable on satellite images by their darker coloring compared to clouds (due to ash content). Venus is pretty strange, though. Apparently there are bright features on the planet's surface that haven't been explained yet, and so presumably some of that "bright material" could be ejected by a volcano.

Since bright areas have appeared in the Venusian atmosphere before, though, and this is just a more localized bright spot, I'm still doubtful that it could be volcanic in origin.

It's very interesting that in two recent cases now, and even though humanity has the technology in place to see these things, amateur observations have directed scientists on where to look (Jupiter and Venus). Nice teamwork!

It's a pity that Venus has received so little attention since the discovery of the (admittedly quite unpleasant) surface conditions. Too much emphasis on searching for life and long-range plans to put people on the pitiful little rockball that is Mars. Venus seems to be a far more interesting planet.

(It's also a pity that Venus Express is apparently a stealth mission, but that's another rant entirely...)

Well finally they have a spaceprobe in orbit, is it unable to spot the surface. Short of my criticism, it's a fine mission; and the goal was to investigate the atmosphere. Just a pity the ESA didn't fit a radar suited for reflectometry.

Comet or asteroid impact? How cratered is the Venusian surface? As I recall, not very.

By Chuckwallah (not verified) on 05 Aug 2009 #permalink

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