NASA’s Magellan Data Reveals Volcanic Activity on Venus
Mar 15, 2023
In a first, scientists have seen direct evidence of active volcanism on Earth’s twin, setting the stage for the agency’s VERITAS mission to investigate.
Direct geological evidence of recent volcanic activity has been observed on the surface of Venus for the first time. Scientists made the discovery after poring over archival radar images of Venus taken more than 30 years ago, in the 1990s, by NASA’s Magellan mission. The images revealed a volcanic vent changing shape and increasing significantly in size in less than a year.
Scientists study active volcanoes to understand how a planet’s interior can shape its crust, drive its evolution, and affect its habitability. One of NASA’s new missions to Venus will do just that. Led by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, VERITAS – short for Venus Emissivity, Radio science, InSAR, Topography, And Spectroscopy – will launch within a decade. The orbiter will study Venus from surface to core to understand how a rocky planet about the same size as Earth took a very different path, developing into a world covered in volcanic plains and deformed terrain hidden beneath a thick, hot, toxic atmosphere.
“NASA’s selection of the VERITAS mission inspired me to look for recent volcanic activity in Magellan data,” said Robert Herrick, a research professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and member of the VERITAS science team, who led the search of the archival data. “I didn’t really expect to be successful, but after about 200 hours of manually comparing the images of different Magellan orbits, I saw two images of the same region taken eight months apart exhibiting telltale geological changes caused by an eruption.”
The search and its conclusions are described in a new study published in the journal Science. Herrick also presented the findings at the 54th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in the Woodlands, Texas, on March 15.
Modeling a Volcano
The geological changes Herrick found occurred in Atla Regio, a vast highland region near Venus’ equator that hosts two of the planet’s largest volcanoes, Ozza Mons and Maat Mons. The region has long been thought to be volcanically active, but there was no direct evidence of recent activity. While scrutinizing Magellan radar images, Herrick identified a volcanic vent associated with Maat Mons that changed significantly between February and October 1991.
In the February image, the vent appeared nearly circular, covering an area of less than 1 square mile (2.2 square kilometers). It had steep interior sides and showed signs of drained lava down its exterior slopes, factors that hinted at activity. In radar images captured eight months later, the same vent had doubled in size and become misshapen. It also appeared to be filled to the rim with a lava lake.
But because the two observations were from opposite viewing angles, they had different perspectives, which made them difficult to compare. The low resolution of the three-decade-old data only made the work more complicated.
Herrick teamed up with JPL’s Scott Hensley, the project scientist for VERITAS and a specialist in analyzing radar data like Magellan’s. The two researchers created computer models of the vent in various configurations to test different geological-event scenarios, such as landslides. From those models, they concluded that only an eruption could have caused the change.
“Only a couple of the simulations matched the imagery, and the most likely scenario is that volcanic activity occurred on Venus’ surface during Magellan’s mission,” said Hensley. “While this is just one data point for an entire planet, it confirms there is modern geological activity.”
The scientists liken the size of the lava flow generated by the Maat Mons activity to the 2018 Kilauea eruption on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Herrick, Hensley, and the rest of the VERITAS team are eager to see how the mission’s suite of advanced science instruments and high-resolution data will complement Magellan’s remarkable trove of radar imagery, which transformed humanity’s knowledge of Venus.
“Venus is an enigmatic world, and Magellan teased so many possibilities,” said Jennifer Whitten, associate deputy principal investigator of VERITAS at Tulane University in New Orleans. “Now that we’re very sure the planet experienced a volcanic eruption only 30 years ago, this is a small preview for the incredible discoveries VERITAS will make.”
VERITAS will use state-of-the-art synthetic aperture radar to create 3D global maps and a near-infrared spectrometer to figure out what the surface is made of. The spacecraft will also measure the planet’s gravitational field to determine the structure of Venus’ interior. Together, the instruments will offer clues about the planet’s past and present geologic processes.
And whereas Magellan’s data was originally cumbersome to study – Herrick said that in the 1990s they relied on boxes of CDs of Venus data that were compiled by NASA and delivered in the mail – VERITAS’ data will be available online to the science community. That will enable researchers to apply cutting-edge techniques, such as machine learning, to analyze the planet and help reveal its innermost secrets.
Those studies will be complemented by EnVision, an ESA (European Space Agency) mission to Venus slated for launch in the early 2030s. The spacecraft will carry its own synthetic aperture radar (called VenSAR), which is being developed at JPL, as well as a spectrometer similar to the one VERITAS will carry. Both Hensley and Herrick are key members of the VenSAR science team.
“Voice of NASA” Hugh Harris Began Career in Cleveland
Mar 17, 2023
In 1962 Hugh Harris applied for a position in NASA’s Lewis Research Center’s Public Information Office hoping to hone his media skills for a year or so before returning to private industry. Instead, it was the start of 60-year association with the agency that included international recognition for his public broadcasts during space shuttle launches.
Harris became interested in public speaking as a youth while volunteering at a Cleveland area radio station and went on to write and produce radio shows during high school. This early experience led to a civil service position as a media specialist at the age of 18 while he was studying speech and dramatic arts at Western Reserve University. Harris was inducted into the army in 1952. During the Korean War, he was deployed to Germany where he utilized his talents as a military reporter and broadcaster.
Harris returned to Cleveland after the war and completed his undergraduate degree in 1956. He subsequently studied playwriting at Columbia University while working as a radio reporter in New Jersey. He moved on to newspaper reporting and returned to Cleveland in the early 1960s to write for the Standard Oil Company. After a wave of layoffs in 1962, Harris applied at NASA Lewis. In February 1963 Harris was hired as a public information specialist.
NASA was in the headlines at the time with its Project Mercury missions and the first flyby of Venus. Locally, Lewis had just been assigned responsibility for the Centaur and Agena upper-stage rockets and was dramatically expanding its workforce and facilities to support the nation’s space program. A key tenet of NASA’s mission is keeping the public informed of its activities.
Harris was responsible for writing materials for newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and motion pictures. In addition, he was sent on extended trips across the country to recruit people to fill the hundreds of new positions at the center. In 1964 he assisted with NASA’s elaborate exhibit at the World’s Fair in New York City.
Harris was often present for the Agena and Centaur launches. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) had a representative broadcast countdown updates and related information to the press during many of the launches. As the frequency of launches grew in the early 1960s, he found himself filling in on the Lewis-managed launches. Harris diligently prepared for each launch, meeting with the launch team and studying the mission objectives. He provided the countdown commentary for Surveyor missions and dozens of other launches.
In 1968, Harris was named chief of Lewis’ Public Information Office. In addition to his other activities, he was responsible for coordinating all of Lewis’ outreach activities, including tours, the center newsletter, and press releases. He wrote a series of 20 half-hour television shows highlighting NASA and other Cleveland area federal agencies, and helped plan events such as the center’s elaborate Technology in the Service of Man event in 1973.
In July 1969, Harris spent several weeks at the Johnson Space Center assisting staff with media communications during the slow periods of the Apollo 11 mission. As the schedule shifted, he unexpectedly found himself as Mission Control’s primary link to the outside world as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the lunar surface. Harris helped analyze the garbled audio to ensure the first words on the Moon were correctly noted.
Despite the continued success of the Centaur Program, Lewis underwent major reductions and shifts in research areas in the 1970s. In 1975, Harris decided to accept a public affairs position at KSC. A former Centaur engineer recalled, “I thought it was a great opportunity for him, but a big loss for Lewis.”
Harris’ experience with the Centaur and Agena launches led to his providing launch commentary for the first shuttle launches in the early 1980s. As he had at Lewis, Harris prepared for each launch by studying the shuttle procedures and working on mock countdowns with the launch team. His communications from Shuttle Launch Control for the first 25 shuttle flights led to his being dubbed “The Voice of NASA.”
Harris, however, pushed back against this designation and assembled a small team which rotated launch assignments. Nonetheless, Harris provided commentary for 90 shuttle launches and played a critical role during the Challenger accident.
In 1985, Harris was named deputy director of Kennedy’s Public Affairs Office. He helped manage all of the center’s public affairs and educational activities involving the general public, schools, businesses, and the media. Harris also supervised the construction of Kennedy’s Apollo/Saturn V Center and initiated an honor roll for spaceflight journalists.
Harris retired in 1998 but remained active over the years as a public speaker and NASA volunteer. Harris passed away in February 2023 at age 90.
DAF to host 2023 Modeling, Simulation Summit
March 17, 2023
ARLINGTON, Va. (AFNS) –
The Department of the Air Force will host its Air Force Modeling and Simulation Summit at The Clyde Hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico, May 9-11.
The M&S Summit supports the implementation of the DAF M&S Strategy by bringing together more than 100 Department of Defense, industry, academia and international partners.
Hosted by Richard Tempalski, Department of the Air Force chief modeling and simulation officer, and Dr. Lisa Costa, Space Force chief technology and innovation officer, the summit will cover current and future modeling and simulation activities and how they support the fusion of air and space, as well as their impact on multi-domain operations to cultivate a distinct M&S community culture.
The 2023 summit theme, “Fusing Air and Space into Multidomain Operations: The Fight is On,” exemplifies how the services are in alignment with the National Defense Strategy to advance the DAF M&S mission and goals.
The three-day summit agenda will explore the following topics:
Day 1: M&S Enabling Resilient Space Capabilities
Day 2: M&S Integrating Space Capabilities into Multi-Domain Operations
Day 3: Transformational M&S Enablers
The summit features six eminent keynote speakers, more than eight mission focus areas, six panel discussions and Q&A sessions. With reduced COVID-19 restrictions, this year's event is expected to bring between 500-1000 participants.
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