Tonga’s volcanic island shows signs of life as mysteries of mud and Mars intrigue scientists

Neongo ne ‘i ai e vavalo ‘e vave pe ha toe puli hifo ‘a e motu fo’ou ko ia ko Hunga Tonga ne mapuna hake he fakatokelau ‘o Nuku’alofa he 2015 ka kuo tupu ‘eni mo matala faka’ofo’ofa ha ‘akau ia ai pea faikelekele foki. Ko e fakamatala fakamuimui ‘eni ki he motu’ ni hili ha tū’uta ki ai ha timi ‘a e NASA. ‘Oku ki’i fifili e timi’ ni he ‘asi ‘a e pelepela ai pea ne anga fēfē e tupu ‘a e kelekele he ko e efu pe ne ‘i ai’.

A volcanic island that rose out of the sea in Tonga three years ago is showing signs of life and plants and wildlife appear.

A NASA team visiting Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai and found plants taking root, a barn owl and hundreds of sooty terns.

Dan Slayback of Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre said the island was covered in a sticky, mysterious mud.

Slayback said his team was baffled by what the mud was made of and where it came from.

He described it as light-coloured, sticky and clay-like.

“We didn’t really know what it was, and I’m still a little baffled of where it’s coming from, because it’s not ash,” Slayback said.

Rock samples were collected for mineral analysis.

A high resolution 3D map of the island is being produced using data from a drone survey and GPS mapping.

A second visit is planned for next year.


NASA have said previously said that Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai could help NASA understand some of the mysteries of Mars.

The space agency said lessons learned on Earth might help understand similar-looking landforms on Mars and elsewhere in the solar system.

“Everything we learn about what we see on Mars is based on the experience of interpreting Earth phenomena,” Jim Garvin, chief scientist of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, said.

“We think there were eruptions on Mars at a time when there were areas of persistent surface water.

“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.”

According to NASA the island could last another 30 years.

However, the American space agency said three decades was the outside limit and it could last as little as six years.

The main points

  • A volcanic island that rose out of the sea around Tonga three years ago is now attracting plant and wildlife.
  • A NASA team visited Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai and found plants taking root, a barn owl and hundreds of sooty terns.

For more information

Mystery mud on new volcanic island baffles Nasa scientists

NASA Shows New Tongan Island Made of Tuff Stuff, Likely to Persist Years


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