Venus Reconsidered

Science  01 Dec 1995:
Vol. 270, Issue 5241, pp. 1460-1464
DOI: 10.1126/science.270.5241.1460


The Magellan imagery shows that Venus has a crater abundance equivalent to a surface age of 300 million to 500 million years and a crater distribution close to random. Hence, the tectonics of Venus must be quiescent compared to those of Earth in the last few 100 million years. The main debate is whether the decline in tectonic activity on Venus is closer to monotonic or episodic, with enhanced tectonism and volcanism yet to come. The former hypothesis implies that most radioactive heat sources have been differentiated upward; the latter, that they have remained at depth. The low level of activity in the last few 100 million years inferred from imagery favors the monotonic hypothesis; some chemical evidence, particularly the low abundance of radiogenic argon, favors the episodic. A problem for both hypotheses is the rapid decline of thermal and tectonic activity some 300 million to 500 million years ago. The nature of the convective instabilities that caused the decline, and their propagation, are unclear.