The island was born via a submarine volcano — and the eruption that created it in 2014 could be seen for miles. People have watched submarine volcanoes 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 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 of 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 any more spoilers. Just take five minutes of your day, watch this amazing video, and let its story and its science knock you to the floor as 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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