Scientists have performed a new analysis of the surface of Venus that has revealed evidence of tectonic motion. That evidence comes in the form of crustal blocks that have jostled against each other like broken chunks of pack ice on Earth’s lakes and oceans. Researchers say that the movement of those blocks could indicate that Venus is geologically active and give insights into exoplanet tectonics and early tectonic activity on Earth.
Researcher Paul Byrne says the research team identified previously unrecognized patterns of tectonic deformation on the surface of Venus. Byrne says the pattern indicates that it could be driven by interior motion just as tectonics are on Earth. However, the researcher is clear that the activity seen on Venus is different from the tectonics seen on Earth.
Despite the differences, the finding is evidence of interior motion within Venus being expressed on the planet’s surface. This is a significant finding as astronomers have assumed that Venus was comprised of an immobile solid outer shell like Mars or the moon for a long time. The Earth is markedly different from those other celestial bodies as its lithosphere is broken into tectonic plates that slide against, away from, and underneath each other.
Researchers used radar images from the NASA Magellan mission to view the surface of Venus. The team was conducting a detailed examination of low lands on the planet that make up most of its surface and noticed areas where large blocks of the lithosphere seem to have moved like broken pack ice over a frozen lake here on Earth.
The researchers then created a computer model of the deformation and found the sluggish motion of the planet’s interior could account for the tectonics they were seeing. Byrne says the observations tell the team that interior motion is driving surface deformation on Venus in a method similar to what happens on Earth. However, the team is clear that they don’t see plate tectonics as we have on Earth but what they see is evidence of deformation due to interior mantle flow on Venus. This means that Venus may still be geologically active.