The geological history of Venus: What’s known, not known, and unknown.
This is a very clearly written overview by James Head, one of the world’s preeminent planetary geologists, of what has been learned about the geology of Earth’s sister planet, the planet of a million volcanoes. Key quote:
Many features on Venus (folded mountain belts, rift zones, tesserae) were like Earth, but there were few signs of Earth-like plate tectonics, so that Venus seemed to have a single lithospheric plate that was losing heat conductively and advectively. But the cratering record presented a conundrum. First, the average age of the surface was <20% of the total age of the planet, and second, the average was not a combination of very old and very young surfaces, such as Earth’s continents and ocean basins. Third, the lack of variability in crater density, and of a spectrum of crater degradation, meant that all geological units might be about the same age. This implied that the observed surface of Venus must have been produced in the past hundreds of millions of years, possibly catastrophically, with very little volcanic or tectonic resurfacing since then! Suddenly, Venus was not like Earth, nor like the Moon, Mars, or Mercury.
Some scientists even believe that Venus was essentially resurfaced in a massive volcanic event about a half billion years ago. Others disagree. Meanwhile, the European probe Venus Express has gotten hints that volcanic activity is still going on.
As Head concludes, it has been 20 years since the last spacecraft arrived at Venus to do geological research. It is time to return.
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