There are many places on Earth that have not yet been researched by man. Volcanoes, for instance, have been researched in depth, but no one has ever been inside an active volcano. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is best known for their outer space endeavours, but scientists have now developed a new robot capable of exploring some of the most inaccessible areas of our own planet.
Researchers at JPL announced recently that they have begun testing VolcanoBot 1 in Hawaii, sending the tiny robot into inactive fissures on Kilauea (which is still an active volcano). “We don’t know exactly how volcanoes erupt. We have models but they are all very simplified. This project aims to help make those models more realistic,” JPL postdoctoral fellow Carolyn Parcheta said in a statement. The team hopes that by mapping the underground fissures they will be able to compile a 3D map of the fissure, something that was only estimated before.
VolcanoBot 1 is a two-wheeled robot, about a foot long and just under seven inches tall. It is capable of sending back information about the now empty fissures. On its first trip down into Kilauea, it went 82 feet below the surface, but researchers hope it will travel further. Mapping out these fissures will help scientists understand how magma travels to the surface and how eruptions occur. The smaller and more advanced VolcanoBot 2 is scheduled to tackle the same volcano in March of this year. “In order to eventually understand how to predict eruptions and conduct hazard assessments, we need to understand how the magma is coming out of the ground,” says Parcheta. “This is the first time we have been able to measure it directly, from the inside, to centimeter-scale accuracy.”
NASA is taking part in this research because they could eventually expand the creation of specialized robots designed to explore fissures of Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa or our own personal moon. Dropping these miniature robots down crevices inaccessible by humans is a way of gathering important information about volcanoes on and off Earth.