The AI system ordered its host satellite to monitor an exploding volcano before anybody asked.
Artificial intelligence can help satellites and other spacecraft observe interesting phenomena before humans even spot them. Case in point: NASA’s Earth Observing 1 (EO-1) spacecraft started capturing images of Ethiopia’s Erta Ale volcano as soon as it developed a new fissure in late January. Volcanologists are keeping a close eye on Erta Ale, since it’s one of the handful of volcanoes with lava lakes at the summit. They sent in requests asking NASA to use its Earth Observing-1 satellite to snap photos of the eruption, but by that time, the images were already available.
EO-1’s AI called Autonomous Sciencecraft Experiment (ASE) was alerted by one of the other satellites in its network about the event. It then sent EO-1 to work, photographing Erta Ale’s evolving lava lakes way before anybody even asked. ASE has been guiding its host satellite’s actions for the past 12 years. It notifies researchers within 90 minutes of detecting an event and giving EO-1 a new task within a few hours. A ground team typically takes weeks to accomplish the same thing.
The image is captured by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) sensor on Landsat 8 on January 26, 2017. Look at the high-resolution image at NASA Earth Observatory website.