Syfy Insider Exclusive

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive videos, sweepstakes, and more!

Sign Up For Free to View
SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Desktop Project Part 7: A new volcano parts the Red Sea. Kinda

By Phil Plait

[Over the past few weeks, I've collected a metric ton of cool pictures to post, but somehow have never gotten around to actually posting them. Sometimes I was too busy, sometimes too lazy, sometimes they just fell by the wayside... but I decided my computer's desktop was getting cluttered, and I'll never clean it up without some sort of incentive. I've therefore made a pact with myself to post one of the pictures with an abbreviated description every day until they're gone, thus cleaning up my desktop, showing you neat and/or beautiful pictures, and making me feel better about my work habits. Enjoy.]

It probably won't surprise you to hear I'm not exactly a Biblical literalist. Still, parts of the Bible are known to be based on actual events, so when something turns up that sounds like one of the stories come true, it's not always surprising.

Still, I always figured the parting of the Red Sea was wholly fictional. But now something has turned up hat makes me wonder if it could've sparked -- literally -- the legend: a volcano has poked its head up from above the waters of the Red Sea.

Here's the scene on October 24, 2007, as seen by the Earth Observing-1 satellite:

[Click to enhaphaestenate.]

That all looks pretty normal. Calm seas, a couple of islands (Haycock Island to the north (left), and Rugged Island to the south, both about a kilometer long), no biggie.

Now take a look at the same scene on December 23, 2011:

[Click to Cecilbdemillenate.]

Holy smoke! Look at that: a whole new volcano! This is happening off the coast of Yemen near a group of islands called the Zubair Group. This region is in a rift zone, where two tectonic plates are pulling apart, so volcanic activity isn't too surprising.

And it wouldn't surprise me at all if something like this were the genesis* of the story from Exodus. A big eruption could cause big waves, flooding, disasters on a smallish scale... and over time the story grew, had bits added to it, and next thing you know there's an overwrought movie with Charlton Heston yelling at the water and shaking a stick at it.

To me, the story of science is always better than the ones we humans make up or embellish, though. Look at that: a brand new volcano, born right before our eyes, and all courtesy of space travel, satellites, good detectors, and a burning, unending desire to understand the world better.

There's a revelation for you.

Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen, using EO-1 ALI data provided courtesy of the NASA EO-1 team.


Read more about: