What Does A Newly Born Pacific Island Say About Life On Mars?

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Science can just knock to me the floor.

Sometimes it’s the revelation of some previously unseen phenomena. Other times, it’s a new way to see something you thought you already understood. Then there are the times when connections pop up between things you never imagined to be connected.

And sometimes, it’s all of them at once.

As a case in point, I give you this five-minute video explaining how the birth of a new island in the Pacific provides new insights into the geography of Mars (the video was found on my ever-favorite The Kid Should See This). The new island is called Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai and it’s in the Kingdom of Tonga.

The island was was born via a submarine volcano — and the eruption that created it in 2014 could be seen for miles. People have watched submarine volcanos making islands before, but Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai was the first to occur in the modern Earth-monitoring satellite era. Now with our orbiting instruments, we have the capacity to follow the island-building process with insane levels of sensitivity and accuracy.

And what did folks find with all this acuity?

Remarkably, they saw a processes involving complex interplays of water and newly formed rock, whose traces look a whole lot like features seen on Mars. The thing about Mars is we know that planet had a lot of volcanism going on billions of years ago. We’re also pretty sure the Red Planet had a lot water billions of years ago, too. Put that together with particular and puzzling features seen on Mars today, and the connection between Mars then and Earth now begins to take focus.

I don’t want to give anymore spoilers. Just take five minutes of your day, watch this amazing video, and let its story and its science knock you to the floor like it did to me. In this way, at least, we are lucky to live in this moment of human history.


Adam Frank is a co-founder of the 13.7 blog, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester and author of the upcoming book Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth. His scientific studies are funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA and the Department of Education. You can keep up with more of what Adam is thinking on Facebook and Twitter: @adamfrank4




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