Go boom (3/16/23)
Good afternoon, and happy Thursday. It’s been a very busy week here in DC for Satellite ’23. Now it’s time to kick back and relax with a healthy dose of space science news.
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Venus goes volcanic
Everyone’s favorite roiling, sulfuric hellscape just got a little more interesting. For the first time, scientists have identified active volcanism on Venus.
Cutting through the clouds: Venus doesn’t make its study easy for scientists. Its clouds are dense and shiny, making telescope observations from afar very difficult, and the incredible heat and pressure of the atmosphere beneath those clouds have destroyed every lander we’ve ever sent there within minutes.
Right now, there’s only one active orbiter—JAXA’s Akatsuki—around Venus. Before that, ESA operated the Venus Express orbiter between 2005 and 2014, and NASA had Magellan, a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging craft, circling the planet between 1990 and 1994. In the last few decades, that’s about it.
A new volcanic view: Though few and far between, missions to Venus have yielded valuable information about the planet’s mysterious surface structure. In a study from astronomers Robert Herrick and Scott Hensley published yesterday in Science, researchers reviewed SAR images taken by the Magellan spacecraft three decades ago and identified a huge volcanic eruption.
The researchers combed through images and found a pair taken eight months apart. In the first image, two volcanic vents are visible. In the second, one of the two vents is double its original size, and there is evidence of new lava flows.
On the one hand, it's not all that surprising that Venus has these kinds of features—it has lots of volcanic features that we recognise on Earth.
But we have *never*, not in the six decades we've been sending spacecraft to Venus, never found evidence of ACTIVE volcanism.
— Paul Byrne (@ThePlanetaryGuy)
Mar 15, 2023
This is the first time scientists have been able to identify active volcanism on Venus. It’s likely, the researchers said, that we could find much more volcanic activity across the planet if only we had the tools to look for it.
Trouble in paradise: In recent years, planetary scientists have pushed for NASA to prioritize missions to Venus and attempt to uncover more details about its surface.
The agency was planning to launch the Venus Emissivity, Radio science, InSAR, Topography, And Spectroscopy (VERITAS) mission in 2028. It recently pulled funding from VERITAS and delayed the mission three years due to cost overruns on the unrelated Psyche asteroid probe, which missed a launch window last year.
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Other News from the Cosmos
- The Young Supernova Experiment made its catalog of supernova data, including information about more than 2,000 supernovae, publicly and freely available.
- A massive CME (coronal mass ejection) on the far side of the Sun last weekend emitted enough solar energetic particles to impact Earth.
- SpaceX launched a cargo shipment carrying a bundle of new science experiments for the ISS crew.
- Galaxies in the universe appear, at a small scale, to be distributed in a seemingly random manner. Researchers used a mathematical approach developed for materials science and found the universe approaches surprising uniformity when viewed as a whole.
The View from Space
JWST captured a picture of the Wolf-Rayet star WR 124 at the tipping point just before it explodes into a supernova.