Enigmatic Venus holds tight its secrets under thick clouds. Image shows the night side of Venus glowing in thermal infrared, captured by Japan’s Akatsuki spacecraft.
Credit: JAXA/ISAS/DARTS/Damia Bouic

An international team of researchers have proposed Mount Etna – one of the most active and monitored volcanoes on Earth – as a suitable terrestrial laboratory to get a handle on possible active volcanism on Venus.

And there’s more.

This research probing of the Sicilian volcano Etna is proposed within the “AVENGERS” initiative. In Venusian verbiage, AVENGERS stands for Analogs for VEN us’ GE ologically R ecent S urfaces.

Mt. Etna in Sicily, Italy (left) viewed by ESA Sentinel-1 Earth-circling spacecraft and Idunn Mons in Imdr Regio on Venus (right) as observed by NASA’s Magellan radar system.
Image credit: P. D’Incecco, et al.

The global research team members come from organizations in Italy, Russia, the U.S., Great Britain, India, Spain, and the Netherlands.

Appearing in the journal Icarus, lead author of the paper, “Mount Etna as a terrestrial laboratory to investigate recent volcanic activity on Venus by future missions: A comparison with Idunn Mons, Venus,” is Piero D’Incecco of the Abruzzo Astronomical Observatory of the National Institute of Astrophysics of Italy.

Eruptive styles

Mount Etna offers the opportunity to analyze multiple eruptive styles, both monitoring active volcanism and identifying the possible occurrence of pyroclastic activity on Venus, they explain. “The eruptive style at Mount Etna of the last 2,500 years gives rise to different types of lava flows.”

Cinder cones on the western flank of Mt. Etna (left) observed by ESA Sentinel-1 and a shield volcanoes in Imdr Regio on Venus (right) from NASA Magellan radar system.
Image credit: P. D’Incecco, et al.

And as they submit, timing is everything.

Given government and private-sector initiatives to further explore Venus, “one key scientific question to be addressed by these future missions is whether Venus remains volcanically active, and if so, how its volcanism is currently evolving,” the research team explains.

“We directly compare Mount Etna with Idunn Mons, one of the most promising potentially active volcanoes of Venus,” D’Incecco and colleagues explain. “Despite the two structures show a different topography, they also show some interesting points of comparison, and in particular: a) comparable morpho-structural setting, since both volcanoes interact with a rift zone, and b) morphologically similar volcanic fields around both Mount Etna and Idunn Mons.”

Mt. Etna is one of the world’s most active volcanoes and is located on the Italian island of Sicily. Image taken in 2001 shows a plume of steam and smoke rising from the crater drifts over several dark lava flows that cover its slopes.
Image credit: ASTER Volcano Archive (AVA)

First step

Given its ease of access, the scientists also propose Mount Etna as an analog site for laboratory spectroscopic studies to identify the signatures of unaltered volcanic deposits on Venus.

While the research paper points out that there is no perfect analog to match what’s served up in the solar system, the case is also made that it will be fundamental to select and analyze several suitable analogs on Earth.

Each terrestrial analog can help researchers to better study and understand some specific aspects of the current volcanic activity on Venus. “Indeed, each suitable analog on Earth can reveal to us a part of the volcanic history of Venus,” the team adds.

Indeed, the proposed analysis of Mount Etna can be considered as the first step of the AVENGERS initiative “that will indeed select and analyze suitable analog volcanic structures on Earth for the analysis and identification of active volcanism on Venus,” they conclude in the new paper.

Image credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Revolution in exploration

“Venus really matters as we analyze the treasures from asteroid Bennu, explore Mars with Curiosity and Perseverance on the road to returning samples, and embark on new journeys with James Webb Space Telescope to Venus-like exoplanets that could be in evolutionary states different from our Venus next door,” said James Garvin, principal investigator of the DAVINCI mission to Venus at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Garvin is a co-author of the Icarus paper.

Researchers can study Venus from Earth as preparations are underway for such missions as NASA’s DAVINCI, VERITAS, the European Space Agency’s EnVision, and others now, Garvin told Inside Outer Space.

“Studies of Mt. Etna and other analogues are helping,” Garvin said, “as well as great lab work here in the U.S. and in Germany, and via testing of new capabilities that we need to work at Venus.”

In Garvin’s view, “we are now in a state of revolution in exploration that rivals those days 500 years ago when Renaissance over-ocean explorers were launching to new vistas for political, economic, and even science. The next 10 years should be juicy as we discover what the solar system can tell us.”

To read the full Icarus journal paper – “Mount Etna as a terrestrial laboratory to investigate recent volcanic activity on Venus by future missions: A comparison with Idunn Mons, Venus” – go to:


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