Newly Discovered Pacific Island Could Help Scientists Study Mars


Earth’s newborn island was formed in December of 2015 in the Pacific Ocean. It is a volcanic island, the result of a volcano eruption which occurred near the islands of Tonga located in the South Pacific. The volcano ejected ash clouds and lava, which, after it settled down, formed an island which is 400 feet above sea level. This newly discovered Pacific island may give scientists an insight into studying the red planet, Mars.

The island is unofficially called Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai and was predicted to be visible for only a few months. However, NASA’s latest research revealed that the island could survive for 30 years, which proves an intriguing area to study.

The newly discovered Pacific Island is the first to form in the era of satellites, and as such it is a great opportunity for scientists to not only explore their formation, but also the early formation of other rocky planets, such as Mars. The island and several areas on the red planet share similarities, which seem to be the result of volcanic eruptions which occurred under the water during the time when Mars had areas covered in water.

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“Volcanic islands are some of the simplest landforms to make,” Jim Garvin, chief scientist of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt Maryland, said in a press release published on NASA’s website. “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.”

Thanks to the Hunga-Tonga Hunga Ha’apai island, scientists now have a tiny volcanic island that they can compare to similar areas on the red planet. The press release noted that Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai with its neighboring islands are located on the rim of a large volcano which is about a mile above the deep ocean floor. Scientists think that similar conditions existed near and around volcanoes on the red planet in the past.

The satellites which orbit the Earth have been studying the newborn island to enable scientists to generate maps of the shifting topography. They performed up-close examinations in order to collect samples which would help their study.

“In the initial months of its existence, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai shifted in shape quickly. Initially oval, the island’s southern shore eroded rapidly, allowing the Pacific Ocean to break through into the lake at the center of the island. Steep walls around the lake appeared in danger of collapse, and it looked as if the island might have been about to vanish,” according to the release.

In the proper conditions, while the volcanic landmass is evolving, warm water turns volcanic ash into more resilient rock. Scientists suggest that the reactions between the volcanic landmass and water occurred at both the newly discovered Pacific island and Mars.

However, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai is only the third of such islands to survive more than a few months in the last 150 years. According to scientists, the newborn Pacific island could last for a few decades, giving them time to study it more in-depth.