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Venus and Regulus

July 9, 2010

The blazing planet Venus has a bright companion the next few evenings: Regulus, the brightest star of Leo. Tonight, the lion's bright heart is just a bit to the lower left of the planet.

Venus is "blazing" in a lot of ways. It's the brightest object in the night sky other than the Moon, for example. And its surface temperature is more than 850 degrees Fahrenheit -- hot enough to melt lead.

Venus may also have active volcanoes on its surface.

Spacecraft that peer through the planet's thick clouds have discovered many giant volcanoes. They've also provided evidence that volcanic activity completely repaved the planet's surface several hundred million years ago.

And one of those craft has found evidence that some of the volcanoes are still active. Venus Express measured volcanic gases wafting through the atmosphere. The gases should dissipate fairly quickly, so if they're still around, it means they're still being belched out by active volcanoes.

The craft also found deposits of fresh lava on the flanks of several volcanoes. Exactly how fresh is unclear -- it could be as old as two-and-a-half million years, or as young as just a few hundred years. Either way, it's unlikely that Venus's volcanoes would have been active that recently, but would be quiet now. So there's a good chance that some of the volcanoes are still pouring out lava and toxic gases -- helping to keep the surface of Venus "blazing" hot.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2010

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