JASON VI: Island Earth

Program Description

Earth is a unique planet - the only one in our solar system that supports life. It is like an island, an oasis for life in a near-void. It contains global systems and cycles that allow and sustain life. Like the other stony planets, Earth began as a concentration of matter and energy - gases and particles. But then it underwent unique evolutionary processes that formed an ocean, an atmosphere and land. We can learn about space and our solar system by looking inward at our own planet - by exploring volcanoes.

Volcanoes are central to this theme. They provide us with an understanding of Earth's origin and evolution. They are destructive, yet also a creative force providing new habitats for both aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals. Colonization of these habitats occurs and begins a continuing process of change, renewal and adaptation resulting in a diversity of life and alteration of the once poisonous atmosphere, oceans and land. The volcanic islands of Hawaii, formed relatively recently, provide us w ith a porthole view for discovery.

We will travel to the Big Island of Hawaii: to the searing hot rivers of molten lava which destroy and yet create new habitats; to the ocean where the sulfurous gloom of lava tubes meets the waters and aquatic life of the Pacific; to the desolate lava fields of Kilauea where colonization of life is just beginning and finally other diverse tropical forests located on the nutrient-rich mountainsides which were once created by volcanism.

Like all islands, Hawaii and each planet, including Earth, by definition is isolated from other locations. But like JASON and the Argonauts in the ancient myth, we have gradually overcome many of the limitations. Telescopes, satellites and remotely operated vehicles - now expand the limits of our vision. With the help of NASA and other organizations we will journey to outer space to look back at our island Earth, observing the health and state of change of our planet.

We will travel to observatories on the summit of Mauna Kea to view the other stony planets in our solar system to discover why they evolved in a different way which is not conducive to life. To better understand the nature of exploration that awaits future scientists, we will explore landscapes similar to those of Mars through the use of remotely operated vehicles to look for signs of life, to analyze air, soil and molten lava samples.

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Gene Carl Feldman (gene@seawifs.gsfc.nasa.gov) (301) 286-9428
Todd Carlo Viola, JASON Foundation for Education (todd@jason.org)