A remote island in the South Atlantic that suddenly formed could offer NASA scientists important clues about Mars.
Scientists are watching a brand new island that formed off the coast of Tonga, as it could have huge implications for a future trip to Mars, and even for the search for life on the Red Planet. The island, called Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai and located in the South Atlantic, was formed by a volcanic eruption three years ago.
It’s an intriguing island because scientists expected it to disappear a few months later, as such islands typically erode very quickly as volcanic ash doesn’t stand up well to the water. But scientists soon realized the island would be sticking around for much longer than that, indicating that something was going on at the chemical level.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center believes that this could have significant ramifications for Mars, as NASA could use the island to study land forms on Mars and therefore determine how they were made, as well as where the best locations would be to search for life.
“Volcanic islands are some of the simplest landforms to make,” said first author Jim Garvin, chief scientist of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Our interest is to calculate how much the 3D landscape changes over time, particularly its volume, which has only been measured a few times at other such islands. It’s the first step to understand erosion rates and processes and to decipher why it has persisted longer than most people expected.”