Venus Volcanoes Suspected to Be Spitting Sulphur Dioxide in Its Atmosphere

Scientists say sulphur dioxide is a clue to uncovering the mystery of Venus volcanism

By on December 3rd, 2012 12:20 GMT

New observations coming from an orbiting satellite suggest that active volcanoes might be spewing sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere of Venus.

Although a large number of volcanoes have long been discovered on Venus, sufficient proof to assess their activity or inactivity today hasn't been found yet, Daily Mail reports.

Scientists believe that analyses on sulphur dioxide fluctuation in the planet's atmosphere could bring elucidation on the matter. It is known that Venus is about a million times richer in sulphur dioxide, a toxic gas mainly emanated by active volcanoes, than Earth is.

Venus Express, a European Space Agency satellite sent to observe the Venus atmosphere since April 2006, registered sulphur dioxide in the planet's upper atmosphere beyond the cloud veil.

The phenomenon is uncommon, since normally the major part of sulphur dioxide on Venus is located underneath its upper cloud veil. This led scientists to the supposition that volcanic activity might be increasing the amount of gas and determining its expansion.

“If you see a sulphur dioxide increase in the upper atmosphere, you know that something has brought it up recently, because individual molecules are destroyed there by sunlight after just a couple of days,” explained Emmanuel Marcq, a researcher at the Observations Spatiales' department Laboratoire Atmosphères, France.

Detection of gas origins in the atmosphere of Venus is made extremely difficult by the latter's rapid rotation. It takes the atmosphere about four Earth-days to rotate all around Venus, while the planet completes a whole rotation around its axis in 243 days.

“A volcanic eruption could act like a piston to blast sulphur dioxide up to these levels, but peculiarities in the circulation of the planet that we don’t yet fully understand could also mix the gas to reproduce the same result,” declared Dr. Jean-Loup Bertaux head researcher for Venus Express.

Scientists believe that if volcanic activity should be the cause of sulphur dioxide increase, than it is most likely to come from multiple small eruptions than from a massive one.

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