Terrestrial Etna reveals the secrets of volcanism on Venus with new study perspectives of astrogeological research
A solution to study Venus volcanism just around the corner? An international team of researchers led byNational Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) in collaboration with volcanologists fromEtna Observatory of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV-OE), who proposed theEtna as a possible terrestrial analogue for the Idunn Mons study, a Venusian volcano perhaps still active and which, based on currently available data, is believed to have erupted in recent geological times. Venus and its volcanoes (active and otherwise) are among the main objectives of future missions that will study Earth's twin, the second closest planet to the Sun. A systematic review "Mount Etna as a terrestrial laboratory to investigate recent volcanic activity on Venus by future missions: a comparison with Idunn Mons, Venus", recently published in the magazine Icarus, turns the spotlight back on Etna, one of the most monitored active volcanoes in the world. The studies on the Sicilian volcano will allow geologists to test radar data analysis techniques for the identification of ongoing volcanic activity on Venus. Participating in the study were NASA (USA), University of London (UK), Moscow Academy of Sciences (Russia), Indian Space Research Organization (INDIA), University of Catania (UniCT), Sapienza University of Rome, University of Pavia, Coventry University (UK) and Universidad Rey Juan Carlos of Madrid (SPAIN). Piero D'Incecco, first author of the article and researcher at INAF of Abruzzo, explains that “the comparison highlighted that both volcanoes interact with a rift zone and that the presence on the flanks of Idunn Mons of small volcanic structures, morphologically similar to the cinder cones present on the flanks of Etna”. Etna is a true natural open-air laboratory for geologists who deal with volcanism, because it is easy to reach and because it is possible to carry out in-situ observations by taking lava samples which will then be compared with those produced by future missions to Venus. The data will help define the level of similarity with the lavas of Venusian volcanoes. There are two future missions targeting Venus: those of NASA VERITAS and DAVINCI, the ESA EnVision mission and the ISRO Shukrayaan-1 mission. “The ease of access will also allow Etna to be used as a possible test area for soil drilling operations by landers that will land on the surface of Venus thanks to future missions such as the Roscosmos Venera-D”, explains D'Incecco, recently appointed to the Steering Committee of NASA's Venus Exploration Analysis Group (VEXAG), for a 3-year mandate. The scientific community agrees that volcanism on Venus is comparable to hot-spot volcanism on Earth. A clear example are the Hawaiian volcanoes, effusive and characterized by very fluid lava. The presence on Venus of volcanic structures morphologically similar to terrestrial cinder cones, which instead are typical of explosive volcanism, opens a series of questions on the possibility that episodes of explosive volcanism could also occur on Venus - albeit locally. “Future missions to Venus will help us shed light on this possibility, which if confirmed would revolutionize the current vision we have of Venusian volcanism”, adds the INAF researcher. Stefano Branca, director of the INGV Etna Observatory and co-author of the article, highlights: "From the 1th century onwards, the Etna volcano has been, and continues to be, a research laboratory for the entire Italian and international scientific community regarding geological, volcanological, geophysical and geochemical studies and, thanks to the monitoring system multiparameter of the INGV Etna Observatory, is one of the best studied volcanoes in the world. This work highlights this aspect even more also with regard to the study of planetary volcanism, as in the case of Venus. In fact, the considerable knowledge on the eruptive history of the Sicilian volcano, acquired during the studies carried out for the publication of the geological map of Etna at the 50.000:XNUMX scale, together with the knowledge on recent activity have allowed us to make a morphostructural comparison with the Idunn volcano in order to identify possible evidence of volcanism active on Venus”. The analysis of the differences and analogies between volcanic structures of different planets such as Venus and Earth reminds us that there is no "perfect" analogue and that, therefore, it is essential to study as many analogues as possible, since each terrestrial volcano can help us to deepen and better understand a specific aspect of Venusian volcanism. “This study represents the first piece of an important multidisciplinary collaboration between astrophysicists and volcanologists of the INGV Etna Observatory. A synergy that opens fascinating chapters of research and sheds new light on the mysteries of Venus' volcanism", concludes Stefano Branca of INGV-OE. The article published in Icarus is the first piece of the "Analogs for VENus' GEologically Recent Surfaces" (AVENGERS) project, led by INAF, and was officially presented at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston in March 2023. This project, over the next few years, it will be responsible for selecting and studying a series of active volcanoes on Earth that can act as analogues for Venus.