Scientists uncover clues to Venus’ cryptic crystal mountains

New study suggests that Venus may have been habitable at one time.

The crystal mountains sound like something out of a fantasy novel. However, Venus’ crystal peaks are no fantasy. The planet boasts crystalline domes that stand hundreds of meters high. Now, researchers from the University of Edinburgh think that they’ve figured out how Venus got its exotic crystal mountains, Futurism reports.

Scientists believe that Venus is a volcanically active world, and, in that regard, that it is like Earth. Similarly, Venus might also have tectonic activity. The Edinburgh team thinks that the material for the crystal mountains originates as “crystal mush,” somewhat like lava.

Sparkly Goo

Starting out deep beneath the Venusian crust, the sparkly goo is then squeezed up to the surface by tectonic processes. Once there, it eventually forms volcanic mountains. Researchers think that these mountains resemble crystalline structures found in Cyrpus.

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How Venus got its crystal mountains has puzzled geologists for years. Venus is relatively flat. Accordingly, the mountains were naturally intriguing. Why did the crystal mush form mountains when basaltic magma spreads out evenly across the surface? Comparing peanut butter and olive oil illustrates the difference between the types of volcanic activity.

“If you poured olive oil onto the table it would just flow away and run all over the table and you’d still have a flat surface,” Geoffrey Bromiley of the University of Edinburgh said. “If you poured something a lot thicker, like peanut butter, that would stay there and form a dome on the table.”

Hiking the Crystal Mountains

What would it be like to hike through these crystals mountains? For one, it would be hot. Temperatures on Venus consistently peak around 900 degrees Fahrenheit. Even so, the Venusian crystal mountains might feature frosty peaks, just like summits on Earth. Interestingly, the frost on Venus’ mountains consists of metallic compounds.

In a 2014 study, researchers found that Venusian mountains might feature frost made of coloradoite, a material consisting of tellurium and mercury. Tellurobismuthite, made up of tellurium and bismuth, weighs in as another contender.

Elise Harrington, who at the time was an undergraduate student at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada, made the frosty discovery. She used data from NASA’s Magellan spacecraft, which orbited Venus from 1990 to 1994.

To penetrate Venus’ thick cloud cover, Magellan beamed radar down to reflect radio waves off the Venusian surface. The data showed that, at higher elevations, radio waves brightened, meaning that they had bounced off of something more reflective. The same thing happens on Earth with snow-capped mountains.

So, Venus is turning out to be more like Earth than once thought, albeit with different temperatures and materials. The team from the University of Edinburgh hopes that future missions will unlock more Venusian secrets.