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Robots Practice Exploring Mars Using Volcanos on Earth

VolcanoBot 1, shown here in a lava tube, explored the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii in May 2014. The robot is enabling researchers to put together a 3-D map of the fissure. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech.
VolcanoBot 1, shown here in a lava tube, explored the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii in May 2014. The robot is enabling researchers to put together a 3-D map of the fissure. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are set to send more robots into volcanos. VolcanoBot 1 has already explored Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano and built 3D maps of fissures inside. Now NASA says VolcanoBot 2 will be tested later this year. Lighter and smaller than its predecessor, VolcanoBot 2 has the added advantage of being able to tilt its camera up, down, and all around to get a better view of the structures it explores.

“We don’t know exactly how volcanoes erupt. We have models but they are all very, very simplified. This project aims to help make those models more realistic,”Carolyn Parcheta, a NASA post-doctoral fellow, said. Ultimately, better models could mean more accurate eruption predictions and hazard assessments.

In addition to learning about earthly volcanos, venturing into lava tubes here on earth should give researchers a better idea of what they will need from a robot intended to explore similar structures found on other planets and moons.

“In the last few years, NASA spacecraft have sent back incredible pictures of caves, fissures and what look like volcanic vents on Mars and the moon. We don’t have the technology yet to explore them, but they are so tantalizing! Working with Carolyn, we’re trying to bridge that gap using volcanoes here on Earth for practice. We’re learning about how volcanoes erupt here on Earth, too, and that has a lot of benefits in its own right,” Parness said.

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