"We seemed like clueless kids."
Dan Slayback, a NASA researcher, described his experience visiting an island in the Pacific that amazes scientists.
The volcanic island originated in the sea in 2015 and is part of the Tonga archipelago.
Since birth, it had aroused interest for NASA researchers.
Understand how islands are formed and changed on Earth can give traces interactionbetween volcanic terrain and old water sources on Mars.
NASA scientists had monitored the island through satellites. But the reality can be very different from the pictures that are captured remotely.
And when Slayback and a group of students arrived at the new island, they found a landscape very different from what was expected.
Mud and gravel
Slayback visited the island with a researcher from Tonga and researchers and students from the Marine Studies Association, Sea Education Association, an ocean exploration program for college students based in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
The island is so new that it has no name and is simply described as HTHH, the combination of the name of two nearby islands, Hunga Tonga and Hunga Ha Apai.
"Most of the island is like onefor gravel blacktoI wouldn't call it true because the stones are the size of a pea, "says Slayback, a researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
"Almost everything we had sandals and it was very painful when the stones came under the soles of their feet," the researcher told a NASA blog.
"And there is like a clay stretching from the middle, in the satellite images you see this beautiful light color material, that's it mud contested".
"It's very sticky. When we saw it, we didn't know what it was and its origin still baffles me. Because it's not about volcanic ash. "
Flowers and birds
The mud was not the only surprise for the researchers.
Slayback and the students photographed vegetation that colonizes the terrain and probably grew off seeds that came to the island feces of birds.
Even one owlwhich was probably resident in the vegetation of the nearby islands, appeared during the visit.
The researchers also found birds called shady terns or shady terns (Onychoprion fuscatus), who took refuge in the depressions of the land around the crater.
The caves on the cliffs around the crater are another mystery.
"I was surprised at how valuable it was to being personal on the island when you're there, you clearly see what's happening to the terrain," Slayback said.
"Erosion caused by rain on the island is much faster than I imagined."
The island is particularly interesting because there are only three islands born of outbreaks in the last 150 years, including HTHH, which has survived more than a few months for the strong erosion of the sea.
Scientists and students collected stone samples from the island and made measurements of the terrain with drones and GPS units.
Back in his laboratory at the Goddard Center, Slayback is now working on one model 3D from the island to determine its volume.
The scientist hopes to return to the island next year to find traces of solving some of his many mysteries.
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