By Nicole Rojas | n.rojas@latinospost.com | @nrojas0131 (staff@latinospost.com) | First Posted: Dec 03, 2012 08:42 PM EST

Maat Mons is displayed in this three-dimensional perspective view of the surface of Venus. (Photo : Wiki Commons)

Scientists have announced that volcanic eruptions on Venus could be the source behind the changes in sulfur dioxide levels in the planet's atmosphere. According to the Daily Mail, scientists have debated whether the volcano-pocked planet remains active.

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Venus' atmosphere is thick with sulfur dioxide, over a million times more than Earth, the Daily Mail reported. Using the European Space Agency orbiter Venus Express, researchers analyzed six years of sulfur dioxide in Venus' upper atmosphere, the Independent reported. There they discovered a spike in sulfur dioxide, which could only be supplied from below.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Dr. Emmanuel Marcq of Laboratoire Atmosphères, Milieux, Observations Spatiales, France explained, "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, but peculiarities in the circulation of the planet that we don't yet fully understand could also mix the gas to reproduce the same result," added Dr. Jean-Loup Bertaux, principal investigator for the instrument that made the discovery.

According to the Daily Mail, Venus has a "super-rotating" atmosphere that makes it difficult to pinpoint the origin of the gas. The group of researchers hypothesizes that if volcanic eruptions are the source, than it would take several gentle eruptions from different volcanoes rather than one giant eruption from one volcano.

Marcq added, "Alternatively, and taking into account the similar trend observed by Pioneer Venus, it's possible that we are seeing decadal-scale variability in the circulation of the atmosphere, which is turning out to be even more complex than we could ever have imagined."

The study's findings were published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Geoscience.  

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