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Volcanic Venus
4 December 2012

On Earth, glowing spluttering volcanoes are one of the most powerful and fascinating phenomena that nature has to offer. Now, astronomers have found that volcanoes may be violently erupting even on Venus, the planet closest to Earth.

In 2005, the astronomers sent a spacecraft called Venus Express to study Venus from close by. It has been orbiting the planet ever since. Unfortunately, the weather on Venus is always cloudy: the planet is constantly covered with a thick layer of clouds. So the spacecraft can’t directly look for volcanoes on the surface. The astronomers therefore used a trick: they searched for a special gas that is released during volcanic outbursts. This gas is sometimes visible above Venus’ thick clouds, so Venus Express can spot it. Using the spacecraft, they observed large changes in the amounts of the gas on top of the clouds. They think that these gas outbursts must be coming from volcanoes.

Previously, Venus Express found another clue for volcanic activity. It has a special camera that can peek through the deck of clouds and see temperature differences. With this, it got a glimpse of something that looked like hot flowing lava. It seems that our neighbour not only has a rough climate - with heavy storms and hot temperatures – but a violent surface as well.

Cool Fact

Venus is one of the brightest objects in the sky. But it’s visible only sometimes and for small periods: just before sunrise (look east) or just after sunset (look west).

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