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Radar detects fresh lava flows on Venus, indicating planet may be "far more volcanically active" than thought

Discovery of potential sign of life on Venus
What scientists can lean from discovery of potential life on Venus 04:03

Radar images of the surface of Venus appear to show fresh lava flows, suggesting active volcanoes on the planet. 

Scientists from Italy's International Research School of Planetary Sciences wrote in an article published Monday that they spotted evidence of changes to the planet's surface. They compared images of the area taken from 1990 to 1992 taken by the Magellan spacecraft, the first such craft to photograph the entire surface of Venus, to current conditions. 

The scientists determined that new rock had formed along set paths. That rock formation can be "most reasonably explained as evidence of new lava flows" in two areas: the western side of the volcano Sif Mons and in the large volcanic lowlands of Niobe Planitia. 

This computer-generated 3D model of Venus' surface shows the volcano Sif Mons, which is exhibiting signs of ongoing activity. NASA/JPL-Caltech

"Using these maps as a guide, our results show that Venus may be far more volcanically active than previously thought," said Davide Sulcanese, who led the study, in a news release from NASA. "By analyzing the lava flows we observed in two locations on the planet, we have discovered that the volcanic activity on Venus could be comparable to that on Earth."

The discoveries back a study published in 2023 that showed the planet is volcanic. That study again used images from the Magellan spacecraft to look for evidence of volcanoes. Researchers from the University of Alaska and the California Institute of Technology found two large volcanoes in the planet's highlands, and confirmed the site of the volcanic vents, where they would erupt. 

"Ozza and Maat Mons are comparable in volume to Earth's largest volcanoes but have lower slopes and thus are more spread out," University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute research professor Robert Herrick said in a news release announcing the study's findings. 

A false-color image of Venus as captured by the Ultraviolet Imager aboard Japan's Venus Climate Orbiter (Akatsuiki). JAXA

Researchers have long believed that Venus, a planet NASA says is "sometimes called Earth's evil twin," has active volcanoes. Venus has a thick atmosphere that traps heat, making it the hottest planet in the solar system, and the surface includes volcanoes and deformed mountains. 

Researchers believe the volcanoes on Venus are less active than those on the Jupiter moon Io, which CBS News previously reported has "multiple ongoing eruptions" in all images captured by researchers. 

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