NASA deploys special robot designed to explore deep inside active volcanoes

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Jan 13, 2015, 11:04 AM EST

The big brains at NASA are accustomed to designing high-tech vehicles used to explore some of the harshest environments in the solar system — but now they’ve set their sights back on planet Earth.

NASA scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have created the VolcanoBot1, which is currently being used to explore fissures in the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii. The two-wheeled robot is 1 foot long and under 7 inches tall. The adorable little piece of tech is being used to explore small, inactive fissures in the volcano — though Kialueau is, technically, an active volcano.

Researchers say the project is so important because scientists still don’t know everything about how volcanoes work. The bot is currently mapping the fissures, which is a very tough job. We have models, but the concepts are relatively basic — mostly because we can’t exactly crawl through molten lava to get close enough to see it all in action. Though, admittedly, some have gotten pretty darn close.

NASA’s Aaron Parness had this to say about the initiative:

“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 (JPL postdoctoral fellow) Carolyn [Parcheta], 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.”

Researchers are already developing a 2.0 version of the VolcanoBot, with plans to explore deeper and deeper inside the volcano. We can’t wait to see more of the cool stuff they find.

(Via Popular Science)