The Key to Finding Alien Life on Mars Is in Tonga

Tuesday, 12 December 2017 - 11:34AM
Space
Mars
Tuesday, 12 December 2017 - 11:34AM
The Key to Finding Alien Life on Mars Is in Tonga
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Image credit: Pixabay
A new island on Earth may provide scientists with the secret to understanding where life is hiding on Mars, if not other alien parts of the solar system.
 
An undersea volcano erupted within the borders of the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga back in December 2014, blasting rock, steam and ash as high as 30,000 feet skyward.

A month later, the event settled, forming Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai (HT-HH), an island with a 400-foot summit. Researchers first believed the new landmass would likely disappear in a few months, yet HT-HH has stuck around, and NASA now thinks it could stick around for at least another six years; possibly even 30 years.
 
The arrival of HT-HH is the first event of its kind since mankind has been scoping the Earth from above with modern satellite tech, and its giving researchers a singular opportunity to monitor such a geological happenstance.

Those studying the island will have a chance to watch how it develops and how it may be eroded; such an intimate understanding of these processes may help nurture a better understanding of how similar doings unfold on other worlds as well.


 
"Volcanic islands are some of the simplest landforms to make…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," said Jim Garvin, a chief NASA scientist from its Goddard Space Flight Center.
 
Garvin is a co-author of a study on HT-HH, which states that its results "have characterized the continuing evolution of Surtsey as a benchmark landscape system…of relevance to other recently formed islands and also applicable to landscapes on the planet Mars."
 
"Surtsey" refers to HT-HH, as it is a "surtseyan" isle, created when hydrovolcanic eruptions are created by the interaction between magma and water, resulting in the type of violent eruptions of basaltic lava that can lead to the birth of islands.
  
"Everything we learn about what we see on Mars is based on the experience of interpreting Earth phenomena. We think there were eruptions on Mars at a time when there were areas of persistent surface water," Garvin noted.

"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."
 
Science
NASA
Space
Mars
The Key to Finding Alien Life on Mars Is in Tonga
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