A volcanic island that rose out of the sea off Tonga in 2014 may help NASA scientists who
want to understand how Mars formed.
It could also help determine whether there might have once been life on the Red Planet.
Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai emerged in December of that year and initially it was thought it would only last a few months.
However, the island has grown and changed shape and scientists think the chemical
composition of the rock has changed to make it more stable.
Now they think it could last for anything from six to 30 years.
NASA has been making 3D maps of the islands so it can understand erosion processes. The
American space agency will also undertake a chemical analysis of rock samples from the
With the permission of the Tongan government, NASA recruited two French sailors who
were in Tongan waters in June this year to take photos and collect rock samples.
Research into Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai could help explain how similar features on other planets formed.
Chief scientist of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, Jim Garvin, said it was thought there were volcanic eruptions on Mars at a time when large areas were covered in water.
“We may be able to use this new Tongan island and its evolution as a way of testing
whether any of those represented an oceanic environment or ephemeral lake
environment,” Garvin told Ellen Gray of NASA’s Earth Science news team.
Hot, wet, environments such as these, could be good places to look for evidence that there
had once been life on Mars.
When Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai was born, it spewed large white plumes of ash high into the sky which could be seen clearly from Tongatapu, 60km away.
As Kaniva News reported at the time, flights from New Zealand and Australia and internal
flights were cancelled or diverted because of the eruption.
The Tongan government said volcanic activity south east of Hunga Ha’apai had been
reported by a fishing boat on the morning of December 20, 2014.
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