NASA scientists say that the eruption of a submarine volcano in Tonga is helping them to understand how features formed on the surfaces of Mars and Venus.
The unusual explosion — which has been calculated at more than 500 times the force of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945 — is offering researchers a rare chance to study how water and lava interact.
Studying the Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai volcano and its evolution in recent weeks is “important for planetary science”, says Petr Brož, a planetary volcanologist at the Institute of Geophysics of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague.
The knowledge “might help us to reveal results of water–lava interactions on the red planet and elsewhere across the Solar System”, he says.
The volcanic island, which began to form from ash and lava expelled from an undersea volcano in early 2015, piqued the interest of researchers including James Garvin, chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, because of its similarity to structures on Mars and possibly also Venus.