Earth  Planets and Moons  ID: 12784

Martian Clues on a Baby Island

In late December 2014, a submarine volcano in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga erupted, sending a violent stream of steam, ash and rock into the air. The ash plumes rose as high as 30,000 feet into the sky. When the ash finally settled in January 2015, a newborn island with a 400-foot summit nestled between two older islands – visible to satellites in space. The newly formed Tongan island, unofficially known as Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai after its neighbors, was initially projected to last a few months, washed away by the ocean. But to the surprise of NASA's science team tracking the evolution of the island using monthly, high-resolution satellites observations from the French space agency's Pléades-1A and DigitalGlobe's Worldview satellites, as well as the Canadian Space Agency's RadarSat-2 observations, the island has survived for more than three years. And, it shows a remarkable resemblance to volcanic formations on Mars. Understanding the processes that shape the Tongan island could provide insights into these Martian features which may have formed in in a similarly wet environment – locations ripe for looking for signs of past life.

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Story Credits

Lead Visualizer/Animator:
Cindy Starr (GST)

Lead Producer:
LK Ward (USRA)

Lead Scientists:
James Garvin (NASA, Chief Scientist Goddard)
Vicki Ferrini (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University)
Daniel A. Slayback (SSAI)

Lead Writer:
Ellen T. Gray (ADNET)

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

Satellite image of the Tongan Island courtesy of Pleiades-1A ©2015 CNES Distribution Airbus DS

Photo of the tephra cliffs on the island is courtesy of NASA/Damien Grouille/Cecile Sabau

Mars image courtesy of NASA/JPL/U. Arizona

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DLESE >> Geology
DLESE >> Natural hazards
DLESE >> Structural geology
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Solid Earth >> Volcanoes
SVS >> Volcanic Islands
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NASA Science >> Earth
NASA Science >> Planets and Moons

GCMD keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation: Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version