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The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: If he can find water on Mars, so can you

NASA’s announcement that Mars has running water on its surface is more than just an expansion of knowledge about our known universe. It’s a message to all university students that the back-breaking work they do in college is not pointless.

For more than 40 years, scientists have been studying the red planet and exploring its surface through the lenses of robotic rovers. Only recently has evidence been revealed that water on Mars is not a thing of the past, which could lead to future discoveries.

NASA confirmed on Monday, Sept. 28, that salt water exists on the surface of Mars, flowing down the slopes of the red planet during the warmer seasons and freezing again during the colder seasons. Former UA student Lujendra Ojha initially reported the discovery in 2011 after studying Mars through the eyes of NASA’s HiRISE telescope.

Ojha conducted his senior thesis on the “Characterization of temporal change due to geological processes on Mars,” with the help of UA planetary geology professor and HiRSE principal investigator Alfred McEwen. It was this research that lead NASA to its recent announcement.

McEwen explained that “UA operates several telescopes and spacecraft experiments, laboratories to study [extraterrestrial] materials, plus provides access to many other data sets and to theoretical modeling.”

The photographs Ojha took were part of a project, one that he dedicated all his efforts toward. He never went looking for something revolutionary, he was just trying to earn his degree so he could maybe one day do so.

Ojha wasn’t a prodigy student; he wasn’t even sure what to pursue to make a living—he was an everyday college kid.

Ojha originally was in a struggling rock band back until he decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in science at the UA, according to CNet. As he explained to The Arizona Republic, his findings were just an accident; he didn’t even think anything of the photos when he initially wrote a report about them.

“I was too stupid to have an ‘a-ha’ moment. … At the time, I didn’t know what I was doing,” Ojha told The Arizona Republic.

Although Ojha’s humility almost discredits him, his discovery is not the random stroke of luck that he makes it out to seem.

Ojha graduated from the UA in 2012 with a degree in geophysics and a minor in planetary science. He currently is a student at the Georgia Institute of Technology working toward his graduate degree. He is majoring in planetary science and minoring in volcanology and expects to graduate from Georgia Tech in 2016.

Sure, anyone can graduate college with the right motivation and dedication, it’s just book smarts. But aside from pursuing a second degree, Ojha has shown it’s possible to receive more than just a degree in college.

According to his Georgia Tech profile and website, Ojha has received numerous awards since 2011, including an invitation to Capitol Hill to present his research. Ojha is now in France on a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide fellowship.

Beyond the enormous amounts of recognition he’s now received, Ojha’s discovery opens a whole new world of possibilities on what humans can do on Mars and outer space.

According to its website, NASA is preparing for the Orion missions that will take astronauts into deep space. The 2020 missions will take manned spacecrafts to land on asteroids and in 2030, the surface of Mars.

Living in the vast universe we do, it’s only been a matter of time before we found other life; perhaps that day has come.

Now armed with the knowledge that Mars has water, humans now have a greater chance of visiting the planet and finally finding such life.

“Water is an essential resource to humans that might one year visit Mars, and increases the chances of finding ET life near the surface,” McEwen said. “It would be surprising if life did not exist somewhere below the surface.”

Experimentation on Mars could also lead to the capability for humans to sustain colonies in space, find new fuel sources or simply expand our knowledge of the known universe.

Whether you’re someone who’s terrified of the idea of space exploration or not, this discovery shows just how much any university student can accomplish before even graduating.

According to The Arizona Republic, Ojha grew up in Tucson and his entire family is Wildcat alumni. Feeling obligated, he attended the university as well, graduated and has gone on to change the world.

Ojha was in no way different than any other college student and he started at the UA, a fact all wildcats—future, present or past—should be proud of.

The road through college is long, strenuous and usually makes everyone want to give up and cry in a puddle of their own tears at one point or another, but Ojha is an example of how­—at any point in the pursuit of knowledge—someone can discover something extraordinary.


Follow Ashleigh Horowitz on Twitter.


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