Lunar and Planetary Institute

New Study Shows Lava Rock Alters Rapidly Under Venus’ Caustic Atmosphere

June 11, 2020

New Study Shows Lava Rock Alters Rapidly Under Venus’ Caustic Atmosphere

Advisor Justin Filiberto with student intern Kyra Cutler at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Image credit: Lunar and Planetary Institute

New research published today in The Planetary Science Journal by undergraduate student intern Kyra Cutler from the University of Birmingham and advisors Justin Filiberto and Allan Treiman from the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI), along with colleague David Trang from the University of Hawai‘i at Mãnoa, use laboratory experiments to constrain how quickly lava rock alters on Venus. Fresh lava rock has been previously measured by European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Venus Express orbiter, but the ages of these flows have been highly uncertain, because it was not known how quickly lava rock alters and how that would affect measurements from orbit.

This new work, in combination with previous results by Filiberto and colleagues, shows that lava rock alters incredibly quickly under Venus’ hot corrosive atmosphere. The alteration products coat the surface of the lava-rock and change how these would be viewed from orbit. Therefore, any “fresh” lava detected from orbit must be less than a decade old. This result provides more support for suggesting that Venus is volcanically active today.

Future missions, such as Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging (DAVINCI+), of which Filiberto is a Co-Investigator, or Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy (VERITAS), both in Phase-A study, should be able to see these flows and if there are any changes in the surface this would provide concrete evidence of any potential volcanic activity.

This work began in 2019 as part of the LPI's Summer Intern Program, which brings competitively selected undergraduate students to Houston to do cutting-edge research with scientists from the LPI and the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) Division of NASA Johnson Space Center.

For more information, visit:
Experimental Investigation of Oxidation of Pyroxene and Basalt: Implications for Spectroscopic Analyses of the Surface of Venus and the Ages of Lava Flows

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