UT student one of few researchers exploring Mars in augmented reality

SOURCE: NASA / GREG SHIRAH / MGN

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Rachel Kronyak, a doctoral student in UT's Department of Geology, is one of a few researchers in the world test exploring Mars with an augmented reality headset.

Kronyak uses the Hololens program which show her the surface of Mars in a three-dimensional hologram. The program uses pictures taken by Curiosity, the NASA rover that has exploring Mars for the last five years.

Curiosity was launched in 2011 and landed on Mars in August of 2012. Linda Kah, a professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UT, joined the Curiosity mission that same year.

In late 2014, Kronyak was the first student brought onto the team by Kah.

Kronyak says that before the technology of telescopes advanced, astronomers thought Mars contained extensive canal systems constructed by ancient civilizations.

With time and new technology, knowledge of Mars is advancing despite finding no evidence of canals.

“With Curiosity in particular, we’ve found environments that, in the past, would have been suitable for microorganisms,” Kronyak explains. “And in the past two years or so, we’ve discovered that Gale Crater, Curiosity’s landing site, was likely an ancient lake.”

Curiosity is advantageous to Nasa. "With advancing technologies in the past few decades, we’re able to increase our resolution of the Martian surface with each mission,” Kronyak said.

“With Curiosity and other Mars missions, we’re constantly learning new things about the evolution of Mars as a planet—how its surface, atmosphere, and environments have changed over geologic time, and how these lessons might be applied to our own planet,” Kronyak continued.

Kronyak will add data collected from the rover and Hololens into her dissertation research. The information gathered will also add to NASA's future explorations and research.

“We’re explorers scouting uncharted land, just like our ancestors,” Kronyak said. “The only difference is that we get to do it with a robot on Mars. In many ways, I feel like this is the closest I’ll get to being an astronaut and going to Mars, so it’s an absolute blast.”