Astronomers are watching a mysterious brilliant spot that has appeared in the clouds of Venus. They say it might be due to a volcano erupting on the surface of the planet that has been called Earth’s evil twin.
Its appearance coincides with that of a dark spot on Jupiter that NASA now confirms was probably caused by an asteroid or comet impact. Volcanic activity is suspected on Venus, the second planet from the Sun, but has never been directly observed.
The surface cannot be seen directly because the planet is completely shrouded in clouds. It has been mapped however using radar from Earth and on American and European spaceprobes.
In an alert to amateur astronomers, planetary observer Frank Melillo, of Holtsville, New York, reported that the new feature is more of an intense spot than just a bright region. He photographed it on 19 July and added: “I have seen bright spots before but this one is an exceptional bright and quite intense area.”
Frank told Skymania News that the spot was confirmed yesterday in images taken by another observer, Paul Maxson of Arizona.
Venus expert Dr Sanjay Limaye, of the University of Wisconsin, who specializes on Venus said: “A volcanic eruption would be nice, but let’s wait and find out! An eruption would have to be quite energetic to get a cloud this high.”
Others suggest that the spot’s position, above latitude 50 degrees south, puts it further south than known volcanic regions of Venus.
Last week, the European Space Agency reported infrared observations by their Venus Express probe suggesting the planet has ancient continents produced by volcanic activity and which were once surrounded by seas of water.
Today the surface beneath a poisonous and crushing atmosphere is completely dry and at a temperature twice that found inside a domestic oven.
• Discover space for yourself and do fun science with a telescope. Here is Skymania’s advice on how to choose a telescope. We also have a guide to the different types of telescope available.