Venus’ Volcanoes May Be Active, New Research Suggests

New research suggests that Venus’ volcanoes may be active — a theory that is sure to be countered by critics of the topic that remains controversial among scientists.

The European Space Agency’s Venus Express spacecraft has spent the past six years studying the planet, reports NBC News. In that time, the planet has shown significant changes in the sulfur dioxide content of the atmosphere.

The change could be explained by a bout of active volcanoes on the surface. The spacecraft arrived at Venus in 2006 and immediately began recording a big increase in the average density of sulfur dioxide in the planet’s upper atmosphere.

A release from the European Space Agency noted that immediately after the increase, the spacecraft noted a sharp decrease. The planet’s atmosphere contains much more sulfur dioxide than the atmosphere on Earth and, at least on our planet, the gas is produced by volcanic eruptions, though it is not known for sure if Venus has volcanoes.

Sunlight helps break down the noxious gas in Venus’ upper atmosphere, meaning that it doesn’t last long, notes The Huffington Post. Because of this, scientists believe that the gas must have arrived in the upper atmosphere recently from the mass of swirling clouds below. Emmanuel Marcq of Latmos, a French research institute, stated:

“If you see a sulfur dioxide increase in the upper atmosphere, you know that something has brought it up recently, because individual molecules are destroyed there by sunlight after just a couple of days. A volcanic eruption could act like a piston to blast sulfur dioxide up to these levels.”

There is still no proof that Venus has volcanoes, as we have not yet been able to penetrate the planet’s thick layer of protective clouds.