Originally created 02/10/01

Argonaut describes expedition



Timothy Trout knows what hot is.

He has tested the temperature of lava - 1,000 degrees Celsius. He has walked across its black, jagged surface, shoved a rock hammer into a moving lava flow, pulled it up red and glowing and watched it turn to stone.

"You can't really look at it directly," said Timothy, who arrived in Hawaii on Jan. 31. "You have to turn your head. The radiant heat is so immense. The air temperature around the lava flows never really drop below 90 degrees, and if you get close to a lava flow, it's around 120."

Timothy, a 14-year-old Greenbrier Middle School eighth-grader, is one of two pupil Argonauts on the JASON Project, a program that promotes science and technology through exploration.

Along with teachers and scientists, Timothy is exploring the East Rift Zone of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, which has been erupting almost continuously since 1983.

On Monday at 2:30 a.m., Hawaiian time, he began his first day as a "Lava Dog," as the researchers are called.

"(Monday) morning was the first time I saw the lava field," he said from the "lava house" where he is stationed for the week. "We were driving down this road where I could see this glowing rock flowing down from the side of Pu'u O'o. It's just absolutely amazing, so cool. The fact that I've gotten so close to it is mind-blowing."

Some of the first experiments they did involved checking the temperature of the lava.

"Another thing I did was take a rock hammer type of thing, walked over to a running lava flow, dipped it in there and pulled out this glowing orange dripping rock and watched it cool," Timothy said. "It cools so fast when you pull it out, it turns into stuff that's almost like glass. It's very brittle, very smooth, and there's hardly any bubbles in it."

The Argonauts are broadcasting five shows a day. Timothy's first broadcast included a live interview from the International Space Station with astronaut Commander Bill Shepherd. During another broadcast,the team did an experiment to demonstrate the temperature of lava. They poured a bottle of water on it and watched it sizzle away.

"It's sweltering; it's absolutely boiling," he said.

His team has been using a global positioning system and computer mapping equipment to track the daily flow of lava.

"Every time you go out there it's different - literally," Timothy said. "I walked on lava that was hours old. If I had been there earlier, it wouldn't have been there because the terrain is always changing."

Timothy said the house where his group is staying is only two miles from the ocean and he can see the lava glowing red at night.

He's been learning about Hawaiian customs and starts each day with a Hawaiian sun chant. He's too shy to repeat the chant over the phone, but he said it sounds much like Queen's We Will Rock You.

Timothy will return home from Hawaii on Sunday, but he said he plans to return to the island paradise for a different kind of adventure.

"Everything is just so beautiful. I would like to come back here and get to relax," he said. "I'd like to spend a few days at the beach, do some scuba diving, maybe learn how to surf."

Timothy then let out a long yawn.

"Long days. Very long days."

For more information of the JASON Project or to read Timothy's field journal, go online to www.jasonproject.org.

Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113.