Scientists may have seen tectonic activity on Venus

The team used observations made by the Magellan spacecraft, which circled Venus from 1990 to 1994 and mapped the surface with radar. The features it has seen have been analyzed before, but the new study adopts a new computer model that can recognize surface deformations that indicate large block structures in the lithosphere. These blocks, each about the size of Alaska, appear to have been slowly rising against each other like broken ice in a pond or lake.

This is very different from the current type of plate tectonics on Earth. But if confirmed, it would still be a test of heat currents and molten material inside Venus – something that has never been observed before. The authors think that parallels with the Earth’s geology during the Archean Aeon (2.5 to 4 billion years ago) suggest that “packing ice” patterns may be a transition from an earlier period of plate tectonics on Venus when the planet was most similar to Earth.

A false-color radar view of Lavinia Planitia, one of the Venus Plains. You can see where the lithosphere has fragmented into purple-colored blocks, formed by belts of yellow tectonic structures.


This movement “is widespread across the Venus Plains, and is supported by a style of global tectonics not previously recognized,” says Sean Solomon, a research scientist at Columbia University and co-author of the new study.

The results only feed more excitement behind it and new missions of Venus little approved by NASA and the European Space Agency. Salomon says he and his team hope all three can provide “critical data to test the ideas we described in our journal.” These missions won’t be ready to launch until the end of the decade, so hopefully the excitement won’t subside in the next few years.

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