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Huge Tonga underwater volcano eruption captured in stunning satellite video

A powerful underwater volcano eruption in Tonga on Saturday (Jan. 15) was captured as it happened in stunning images from an Earth-watching satellite, showing the sheer power for the explosive event in the South Pacific. 

The volcano eruption on the island of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai is visible as a spectacular explosion in views from the GOES West Earth-observing satellite operated by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A video of the eruption shows a vast plume from the volcano rising high into the atmosphere like a giant mushroom during the eruption as a shockwave extends outward from Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai, one of the 170 islands that make up the South Pacific kingdom of Tonga. 

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NOAA's GOES West satellite captured this stunning view of an explosive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano, located in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga, on Jan. 15, 2022. (Image credit: NOAA)
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The eruption spawned a 4-foot tsunami that hit Tonga's capital of Nuku’alofa, which is about 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of the volcano. A sonic boom from the eruption was heard across the Pacific Ocean, reaching as far away as Alaska, according to the Associated Press (opens in new tab)

Nuku’alofa was reportedly covered in a thick film of volcanic dust, according the AP. There have been no official reports of injuries or damage from Tonga's capital, but its internet access was interrupted by the event,  the AP added.

The volcano on Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai first erupted on Dec. 20 and then exploded with a massive eruption on Jan. 13, which was also spotted by GOES West, NOAA officials said in a statement (opens in new tab). That eruption was seven times more powerful than the December event and sent a huge plume of ash and gas over 12 miles (20 kilometers) into Earth's atmosphere.

Saturday's eruption also sent an ash plume to an altitude of nearly 12 miles, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the AP (opens in new tab). New Zealand officials hope to send military surveillance flights over the volcano on Monday to assess its status, followed by aid and supplies for Tonga, where water supplies may be contaminated, Ardern added. 

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @SpacedotcomFacebook and Instagram

Tariq Malik
Tariq Malik

Tariq is the editor-in-chief of Live Science's sister site Space.com. He joined the team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, focusing on human spaceflight, exploration and space science. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times, covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University.