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Explore 360-degree panoramas of an amazing volcanic crater in Google Maps

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Google Maps is like a digital window into new and exotic places. In February, Google teamed up with Game of Thrones star an U.N. Goodwill Ambassador Nikolaj Coster-Waldau to capture 360-degree views of southern Greeland and the village of Igaliku, and more recently, it sent intrepid Australian photographers to document the depths of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. On Wednesday, though, Google captured some of its most death-defying panoramas yet from the side of the volcanic Marum crater on the Vanuatuan island of Ambrym.

Vanuatu, an archipelago of 80 islands that lies more than a thousand miles off the coast of Australia, features two active volcano cones: Marum and Benbow. To capture the interior of the former, Google enlisted the services of explorers Geoff Mackley and Chris Horsley, who repelled more into the volcano while wearing Google’s proprietary 360-degree Trekker camera.

It wasn’t easy. The Trekker, a spherical camera controlled via an Android phone, consists of 15 lenses and weighs 40 pounds — weight Mackley and Hosley had to lug down Marum’s precipe, which stretched more than 1,300 vertical feet.

The molten lava lake in Marum’s crater is roughly the size of two football fields, Mackley said in a press release. “It’s like looking at the surface of the sun.”

The digital tour’s about more than Vanuatu’s natural beauty, though — it’s intended to shed light on the island’s ongoing recovery from Cyclone Pam in 2015, one of the worst natural disasters in the archipelago’s history. The residents of Ambyrm live mostly in the rainforest down the mountain, and Endu, one of the largest villages, was nearly destroyed in the storm.

The island nation is considered one of the country’s most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

“[By] putting this place on the map, people will realize what a beautiful world we live in,” Horsly said.

It’s been an active couple of years for Google Maps documentarians. Camera-equipped hikers trekked the more than 75 miles of the Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail and South Kaibab Trail, adding more than 9,5000 panoramic views. And in 2014, they toured the interiors of 1,000-year-old temples in Cambodia.

You don’t have to be the adventurous type to start contributing your own 360-degree panoramas. A German company called Streetview Technology is selling a DIY Street Trekker kit, which consists of a Street View camera; an image processing server, which stitches your photos together and adds location metadata; the Google custom Street View player, so you can enable the shots to work interactively online; and a backpack.

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