2015: A Nepali student in confirming liquid water flows on the Martian surface
By NLRC Staff, September 2015Contents
Scientists have confirmed liquid water flowing on the Martian surface. In a paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience, lead author Lujendra Ojha and colleagues identified hydrated salts on the surface in the seasons when dark streaks are present by analyzing spectral data from a spectrometer on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).
In 2011, scientists discovered the dark streaks, called the recurring slope lineae (RSL,) along the Martian slopes in images from the orbiter. Scientists suspected that the streaks, which appear and grow during warm seasons and fade in cold reasons, were caused by a seasonal flow of salty water but no evidence had been found until now.
"We know from prior investigations that these features form on Mars," Ojha told journalists at a press conference organized by NASA to confirm evidence that liquid water flows on today's Mars. "However, the key evidence was missing until now - and that was their chemical identity."
The spectrometer observations show signatures of hydrated salts at multiple RSL locations, but only when the dark features were relatively wide. The same locations showed no signs of hydrated salts when RSL were not as extensive.
"For Ojha, the new findings are more proof that the mysterious lines he first saw darkening Martian slopes five years ago are, indeed, present-day water." NASA's press release announcing the confirmation of evidence of liquid water on Mars noted and quoted Ojha as saying, "When most people talk about water on Mars, they're usually talking about ancient water or frozen water. Now we know there’s more to the story. This is the first spectral detection that unambiguously supports our liquid water-formation hypotheses for RSL."
In addition to being an important milestone in science, this also is a remarkable success story for Ojha, a graduate student from Nepal. Not only was Ojha the lead author of the latest paper, he is also credited for discovering the streaks in 2011 when he was an undergraduate student.
While growing up in Nepal, Ojha used to be fascinated by the geography around his Samakhusi neighborhood in Kathmandu, especially the flat farmlands, the Maipi Hill, the Shivapuri Mountain, which used to make him think of Mount Everest that he had read about. He used to get curious as to why the hill, the only one in the area, stood in the middle of the farmland and why the Shivapuri Mountain got covered in snow during the winter but showed dark patches during the summer. He often followed his father to his office at the Department of Mines and Geology, and joined him on field trips to different parts of the country. He wondered about the bright stars during new moon, the full moon and the sun; the nearby British Council library had become one of the places he could get answers to many of his curiosities. Ideas about string theory, multiple universes and time travel fascinated him.
After middle school, he and his family moved to the United States. His continued fascination with science and the opportunity he received, while an undergraduate student, to work on a project studying images sent back by the MRO, led to his discovery of the streaks along the Martian slopes.
Ojha also spends time on projects studying earthquakes in Nepal and the Himalayas. In an interview with a national newspaper, he recollected the time when his proposal to study earthquakes in Nepal had been approved and said, "I was happy to know that, even by being away from Nepal, I'd be able to contribute something to Nepal."
Ojha, currently a PhD candidate, says, "We need to provide more funding for people in applied sciences in Nepal," and hopes for more opportunities in science and technology in Nepal.
Ojha's success has also become a source of inspiration to the Nepali community that has taken his achievement as a matter of great pride. Nepalis living outside of Nepal have been equally, if not more, excited and see Ojha as an example of how a person from Nepal can make a difference at the international level.
Congratulations Mr. Ojha on your achievement and thank you for being a role model to many. Your success story will inspire many others in the community to craft their own success stories.
References Ojha, Lujendra, et al. "Spectral evidence for hydrated salts in recurring slope lineae on Mars." Nature Geoscience 8.11 (2015): 829-832.
 NASA. NASA Confirms Evidence That Liquid Water Flows on Today’s Mars. 28 Sept. 2015. Web. 4 Oct. 2015.
 Bhandari, Kiran. "Maipiko thumkodekhi mangal grahasamma" [From the Maipi Hill to Mars]. Nagarik Daily [Kathmandu] 8 Aug. 2011: 1-2. Print.
 Landau, Elizabeth. "How an undergrad spotted possible water on Mars." CNN.com. Cable News Network, 5 Aug. 2011. Web. 30 Sep. 2015.
 Sigdel, Chahana. "Ojha-led team finds flowing water in Mars." The Kathmandu Post 30 Sep. 2015: 2. Print.
About Success Stories
The Success Stories series features achievements by individuals or groups from or with ties to Nepal. In addition to highlighting the contributions to the society, the Success Stories series hopes to promote the inspiration these achievements provide among the community.