Mars, Mauna Kea alike

Published On: Oct 31 2012 08:52:23 AM HST   Updated On: Oct 31 2012 11:15:58 AM HST

Forget little green men in an alien landscape.  Mars is a little like home.  Scientists searching for life on the red planet instead find a similarity to our islands.

Hawaii is a sunny, tropical paradise while Mars is a barren, cold and rock planet.

Millions of miles apart, it would seem like they couldn't be any more different.  But, curiously, NASA scientists discovered one thing both places have in common.

Not big waves or beautiful sandy beaches, but instead volcanoes.

"The soil being analyzed on Mars, similar to Mauna Kea, which is another hot spot volcano," said Mike Shanahan from the Bishop Museum.

The Mars rover Curiosity, which just started its two-year mission, took its first soil sample and found feldspar and olivine -- minerals also found with volcanic eruptions here in the middle of the Pacific.  And just like Hawaii, the red planet's old volcanoes formed over hot spots in the crust.

"Mars, like Hawaii, is a volcanic planet, and as you analyze it you view the past age of volcanism," said Shanahan.

The ancient volcanoes on Mars are now quiet.  Many are weathered down and worn down.

Hawaii has also seen many of its volcanoes worn down over the centuries, but the islands are also a place of new activity.

"We're all volcanic.  We only exist because of volcanism here," said Shanahan.  "All the islands have signs of ancient volcanoes while the Big Island still has active volcanoes."

At the Bishop Museum, Shanahan believes this Mars discovery could spark even more interest in astronomy here in Hawaii.  And who knows?  One day we could be saying, "Aloha!" to the red planet.

"It's such as untapped last frontier.  We've sent humans to the moon but never beyond the moon and there is hope that in this century we'll have the first human mission to Mars," said Shanahan.

In another month, the rover Curiosity will drill into its first Martian rock.  NASA scientists are looking to see if the environment there could have been hospitable to microscopic life.


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