Featured Image: Investigating Venus’s Volcanic Activity in the Lab

Is Venus still volcanically active today? A new study led by Kyra Cutler (USRA’s Lunar and Planetary Institute; University of Birmingham, UK) investigated this question in an unusual way: by examining how rocks age in a laboratory. The photo above shows a sample of alkali basalt before and after it was exposed to 7 weeks of oxidization in a furnace to reproduce conditions similar to those on Venus’s surface. The mineralogical changes of the rock can be easily seen here — particularly the formation of hematite, visible as small white specks — and it’s even more dramatically evident in the reflectance spectra captured to mimic remote observations of Venus. Cutler and collaborators’ experiments indicate that if the basalt on the surface of Venus contains olivine or glass, some lava flows we’ve observed can only be a few years old. And even in the unlikely event that the basalt is fully crystalline instead, it’s still at most decades to hundreds of years old. These results strongly indicate that Venus is currently volcanically active. To learn more about the authors’ work, check out the article below.


“Experimental Investigation of Oxidation of Pyroxene and Basalt: Implications for Spectroscopic Analyses of the Surface of Venus and the Ages of Lava Flows,” K. S. Cutler et al 2020 Planet. Sci. J. 1 21. doi:10.3847/PSJ/ab8faf