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Why this explosive, Mars-like volcanic island fascinates NASA

  Why this explosive volcanic island, similar to Mars fascinates NASA

An aerial image, captured by a satellite, reveals the baby island.

Credit: NASA

A baby island erupted in the South Pacific Ocean three years ago, during a volcanic explosion in the Polynesian kingdom of Tonga, and now NASA scientists believe it may be here to stay for decades.

When the new landmass, called Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha & # 39; apai, emerged from a tower, An ash cloud of 30,000 feet high (9,100 meters), the researchers thought it would be removed in weeks or months, according to a NASA statement. Now, NASA researchers believe the new mound of land, with its 400-foot (120-meter) peak, could last many more years.

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha & # 39; apai is interesting, explained NASA scientist James Garvin in a video, because the islands of this type are "windows in the role of surface waters on Mars, as they have affected to small geographical features such as volcanoes, and we see fields of them on Mars. " [The Harshest Environments on Earth]

Those geographic features, he continued, once offered the conditions in which early life could have formed on Mars: warm, watery, turbulent and salty.

This island was, in its first six months, very unstable. It eroded quickly, changing shape constantly, wrote NASA. Watching him through monthly satellite images, the researchers saw him shrink and wait for it to disappear completely. Instead, over time, conditions on the island stabilized when the salt water interacted with the volcanic dust to form a firmer soil.

Researchers are still working to understand the exact chemical conditions that helped the island and its geographic features against erosion.

  This point of view, filmed on the island itself, shows the shape of the relief up close.

This view, taken on the island itself, shows the relief geographically close.

Credit: NASA / Damien Grouille / Cecile Sabau

Remains perched, U-shaped, in the caldera of an underwater volcano (its creator) which is 4,600 feet (1,400 meters) above the seabed, he wrote The NASA. It includes an interior lake, walled by a low sandbar that collapsed in the past, but which currently remains intact. The island could last another 6 to 30 years, according to NASA.

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha & # 39; apai is only the third new island to emerge from a volcanic explosion in the last 150 years. For example, in 2011, a volcanic eruption gave birth to an island in the Red Sea. Another volcanic submarine eruption, in November 2013, led to the formation of an island off Japan. This type of islands, called "surtseyan" after Surtsey, an earlier example near Iceland, are chemically and geologically distinct from the more common advent of islands formed by slower volcanic processes.

But because they represent a type of relief that may have also formed in the ancient waters of Mars, scientists are deeply interested in its evolution.

Originally published in Live Science.

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