When volcanoes erupt, magma usually comes pouring out of fissures — deep, narrow crevices that plunge into the Earth. But fissures are difficult for clumsy humans to explore, even when the volcano is inactive. Enter VolcanoBot, a little bot designed for diving into fissures.
At NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, scientists are making VolcanoBot to explore Earth's volcanoes and, if all goes well, those of other planets as well. VolcanoBot 1 (pictured above) was dropped into the fissure of the inactive Kilauea volcano in Hawaii as a test last year. It descended 82 feet, mapping the magma pathway. Volcanic eruptions are still notoriously hard to predict, in part because peering inside the underground structure of volcanoes is no easy task.
And now, JPL is back with VolcanoBot 2, which is not bigger but is better. VolcanoBot 2 is a smaller and more compact vehicle, 10 inches long compared to its predecessor's 12 inches, with more robust parts. Its camera can also pan up and down for greater flexibility. Researchers above ground will also be able to use VolcanoBot 2's camera feed to navigate in real time.
VolcanoBot 2 is due for its first test trip down Kilauea in early March. If it goes well, we'll get an unprecedented peek inside the guts of a volcano. [NASA]
VolcanoBot 2 (left) and VolcanoBot 2 (right). Pictures: NASA/JPL-Caltech