Imagine a harsh, inhospitable alien world where the surface is bubbling and contains bright orange and yellow swaths enshrouded in sublimely steamy mists. That should give you a pretty good picture of Waiotapu (sometimes rendered as Wai-O-Tapu), a thermal area of about 11 square miles (18 square kilometers) in New Zealand.
Steam and gases rising through the pool create bubbles of mud, at the site of what was once a volcano. While Waiotapu is a popular tourist spot, visitors are warned to stay on government-erected walkways, lest they fall through thin crust surfaces and risk being burned by hot geothermal gases or fluids, and inhaling possibly fatal concentrations of carbon dioxide and sulfur [source: New Zealand Department of Conservation].
Author's Note: 10 Places on Earth That Look Completely Alien
When I was young, I enthusiastically devoured a series of juvenile science fiction novels about a team of future space cadets led by the intrepid Tom Corbett. The depictions of other planets in the books bore little resemblance to reality — Venus, for example, was a hot and humid but otherwise Earth-like environment. But those books started me pondering about what other places in the cosmos must look like, and I've been thinking about that ever since. That curiosity made this assignment even more interesting for me, because I could at last see places on Earth that were comparable to the worlds conjured by my imagination.
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