Tricorders & Sensors

Tricorder Tech: NASA Goddard Instrument Field Team Tests Astrobiology Instrumentation

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
NASA
September 14, 2022
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Tricorder Tech: NASA Goddard Instrument Field Team Tests Astrobiology Instrumentation
Hawaii’s volcanoes and caves have a lot to teach us about our planet and our place in the universe.
NASA

We’re the Goddard Instrument Field Team (and friends), and we study Earth’s most otherworldly places. This week we’re in Hawaii working to answer questions about our solar system’s history and the search for life beyond Earth.

Hawaii’s volcanoes and caves have a lot to teach us about our planet and our place in the universe. Volcanic activity is common throughout our solar system, and Earth rocks are very similar to rocks on other worlds. Compare lava landscapes on Earth and the Moon: https://go.nasa.gov/3BtmpPh

Special thanks to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and Hawaii Space Exploration Analog & Simulation for hosting us as visiting researchers. We’re all guests here – Hawaii’s volcanoes and caves have been cherished cultural landscapes since long before NASA existed. Learn about the Big Island’s unique history: www.nps.gov/havo

Zach & Stephen will use the data they collect to build augmented reality (AR) environments. Imagine entering a cave, opening an AR app on a cell phone, & clicking on each rock to learn about it. Astronauts will use similar digital tools to help with science decisions on the Moon.

Stephen & Zach are capturing 360-degree panoramic images and 3D scans of the cave walls (image 1). Their first panorama uses white light, so the cave walls appear in their true colors. Next they’ll take 108 digital photographs to map materials that fluoresce (glow) under ultraviolet light.

When we shine ultraviolet light around the inside of the lava tube, we reveal color patterns on the cave wall that are usually invisible to the eye (image 2). Other research teams can use these observations to decide where they’ll take samples & look for signs of microbial life.

In the third image, astrobiology researcher Bethany refers to ultraviolet image data as she chooses a spot on the cave wall to study. The brand-new UV map in her hand shows color differences that we can’t detect with human eyes alone.

Astrobiology, Tricorder,

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.