How an undergrad spotted possible water on Mars
Lujendra Ojha stands with a poster of his work on looking at possible briny water on the surface of Mars.
August 5th, 2011
02:29 PM ET

How an undergrad spotted possible water on Mars

In high school, Lujendra Ojha hoped he might one day invent a time machine. A science-fiction fan, he was fascinated with ideas about string theory, multiple universes and time travel.

Ojha hasn't cracked those mysteries yet, but he did discover something else otherworldly: possible flows of saltwater on Mars.

The 21-year-old is a co-author of a new study in the journal Science suggesting that there is liquid water during warmer seasons on Mars. If it's there, this water probably would be briny, because studies have shown that Mars' surface is salty.

A native of Kathmandu, Nepal, Ojha has always been fascinated by mountains, especially since several of the world's tallest are in his country. He combined his interest in physics and geology by majoring in geosciences at the University of Arizona.

The Mars discovery came out of an independent project he was doing with professor Alfred McEwen, lead author of the new study published in Science. Their collaborator, University of Arizona researcher Colin Dundas, was interested in gullies on Mars, which may be remnants of past water activity. The researchers were looking for seasonal changes in those gullies.

Using a computer algorithm to examine images taken in the same crater as the gullies Dundas had examined, Ojha removed visual distortions, such as shadows, from images of a crater taken at different points in time. With that technique, he compared the images to identify the changes over time.

That's how Ojha noticed irregular features in the crater that weren't related to the gullies.

"When I first saw them, I had no idea what it was. I just thought it was a streak made by dust or something similar," he told CNN on Thursday after a NASA news conference. "It was a lucky accident."

It took McEwen's team months of research to figure out what it could be. In fact, scientists say, Ojha had found the first evidence of finger-like features on the slope of the crater that could be liquid briny water on Mars, although scientists do not know for sure. The source of this water could be below the surface, but that has yet to be determined, Ojha said.

"There's going to be years of research put into this to even prove that this is definitely a proof of water. And from that, we can move on: OK if this is water, what are the chances that life could be in these kinds of surroundings?" he said.

As for life on Mars, Ojha has his fingers crossed.

"That would be exciting. That’s kind of like the holy grail of science: To find our neighbor, to find life on some other planet," he said.

Ojha will graduate next year but isn't sure what's next - perhaps graduate school.

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Filed under: Discoveries
soundoff (73 Responses)
  1. Mithola Singh

    Scientists?
    Not sure why scietists are searching water on mars. For live organism to survive a media is needed (in raw form to survive on earth – Fish needs water as a media to survive, Human needs oxygen /air to survive ) on same notion
    to survive on mars we need to explore what media is avialable and then figure out whether human body can change itself to survive in that available media; that survival media on mars does not have to be water!

    August 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  2. JP

    Sooooo........ he didnt discover water on Mars yet, just the 'possibility'. I can fix an Xbox with a hairdryer. Can I get my own article on CNN?

    August 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  3. rc roeder

    uh huh...did some one do a wegie on you brain?

    August 5, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  4. John

    What is Muslim type beard? How can he make it a Christian, Jewish or Hindu beard?

    August 5, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  5. rc roeder

    ah another bigot...we have a bad case of the bigot...where is the bigot-a-way spray...Essence of left wing liberal, Mr Rogers and Barney ...

    August 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  6. StaffSgt. Jung Bahadur Thapa,

    That is extremely hillarious.

    August 5, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • rc roeder

      yes it would be to a 5 year old, bust most people develop past that. some don't.

      August 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  7. Michael

    After graduation, tea party is planning to deport him back to Nepal. We don't need scientists and bright people from other country to come and take our jobs.

    August 5, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • Geronimo

      Why did you come to this country then?

      August 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
      • Michael

        Cause i was born here... go ahead and ask me another stupid question.

        August 5, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  8. Suresh

    LOL. Naaa he just have that beard as a style. He looks cool and definitely not a terrorist.

    August 5, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  9. madan

    tapai ko yogyata ko sarai tarif garna chanchu, ho ahile nepali haru doctor , engineer , professor bhayeka chan tar yeo recogniztion chai pahil hola after CNN hero, I would like to congratulate you on your achievement and I know there will be lots of criticism that you will face on your way ahead, but just make sure what your goal is and your potential.
    namaskar

    August 5, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  10. Gillette

    Find a razor dirtbag

    August 5, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Brian

      Your the DirtBag!

      August 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  11. pulsars

    Gee, all these negative comments! Let's us instead give this young man from Nepal a round of applause for taking an interest in a subject that most people find boring and unimportant. Who knows, maybe he'll be one of the lucky few to set foot on Mars one day.

    August 5, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  12. dean

    Alteast Indians are smarter then your american heheheh slap on your face.. he did it without any expense..

    August 5, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  13. chodehamer

    cool article :)

    August 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • And?

      Student may have found water on Mars – What was he doing on Mars?

      August 5, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  14. urgirl

    he is NOT 21!! haha

    August 5, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  15. PunxJ

    It's too bad that the U.S. has gotten out of the manned space exploration business. It might've been nice to explore that planet and find out just how much of that purported water there is. At least the Chinese, Indians and Russians will be able to tell us about it.

    August 5, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  16. Christiannx

    All of you people who keep saying hes a terrorist are just grumpy old bags who follow the tea party and think everyone who isnt white is evil. I cant wait till the older, racist generation goes away.. it will be such a relief.

    August 5, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  17. Jones

    The guy is Hindu, just sayin'.

    August 5, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  18. Ken

    Are u talking about your parents?

    August 5, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  19. MarsMartian

    Harold and Kumar: Beard Growers

    August 5, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Mars

      Screw u

      August 5, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
      • Tony

        Chill dude

        August 5, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Elian Gonzalez

      He's done more with this than you've done, loser.

      August 5, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • rc roeder

      I agree with mars

      August 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Tony

      dick head have some respect

      August 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Freddy

      No need to be racist

      August 5, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  20. Patchw3rk

    @SilentBoy741
    Um, yeah... The ICE caps are made of ice. What they are suggesting is the possibility of liquid water during the warmer seasons. It's called reading comprehension dude ;-)

    August 5, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • SDJ

      It's significant because atmospheric pressure is too low in most places for liquid water. It typically sublimes directly from solid to gas. Please look at a phase diagram for water. Kthnxbye.

      August 5, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  21. An Adult

    Thats pretty cool. Something this guy should be proud of. If you are not impressed and think this is nothing big then why click on it? Just move along and try to keep your silly smug comments stuffed in your big mouth – if at all possible

    August 5, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • MarsMartian

      Oh hey look its Cap'n save a terrorist hahaha

      August 5, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
      • Freddy

        Troll

        August 5, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  22. MarsMartian

    In other news: Aliens invade earth and think the Chinese inhabited Asia first. Lawsuits follow.

    August 5, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  23. jessicaber

    I have not read it yet, but this sounds like a super cool article. Thank you CNN.

    August 5, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • MarsMartian

      shatafaqup

      August 5, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  24. CatfishMammy

    I done find water in my backyard one day an done remembered it done rained the night before. Amen

    PRAISE JESUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    DON'T PRAISE DA DEBIL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    August 5, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • CatfishMammy

      PRAISE BE TO JESUS AN DA WATER DAT HE MAKE SO THE CATFISH CAN SWIM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      August 5, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  25. MarsMartian

    He probably has briny water in his terrorist beard

    August 5, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • dean

      You are a jerk.

      August 5, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Ken

      SHUT UP U DUMB A**. If u call his a terrorist then what will u call Professor Calculus from TINTIN. And secondly he is not a Muslim , he is a Hindu, his name says it all.

      August 5, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
      • MarsMartian

        Faaaaqqqq uuuuuuu ken hahhaha

        August 5, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • rc roeder

      No MarsMartian is a bigot and a simple minded individual. We shoudl pity him and his mama should wack him up the side of his head.

      August 5, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  26. JT

    It's great to see a youngster like Lujendra is interested in science instead of all the bonehead activities that most teenager are involve with today.

    August 5, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  27. CatfishMammy

    I done found water in my backyard one day and remembered it had done rain da night before. Amen.

    PRAISE JESUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    DON'T PRAISE DA DEBIL!!!!!!!!!

    August 5, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  28. Ian

    Nice job, good find. As a fellow undergrad researcher, I love seeing these stories. I think the lead professor deserves a bit more recognition in this story, though. They're the brains behind these projects, we're just the helping hands.

    August 5, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Ken

      Are u a bit jealous?

      August 5, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Ian

      nope, i've got my fair share of research to be proud of. I just know that it was only a result of my professor's guidance.

      August 5, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  29. rtbrno65

    What I can't understand is how liquid water can exist in pools on the surface with that dry, thin atmosphere and low surface pressure? It seems like any standing liquid water would immediatly evaporate.

    August 5, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • MarsMartian

      what i cant understand is why youre such an idiot

      August 5, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
      • Elian Gonzalez

        Same to you.

        August 5, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Elian Gonzalez

      It's not in pools; the evidence for the water is circumstantial. The process that is causing this is still not understood.

      August 5, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  30. zhawk88

    Wait a minute... that looks like the dude from Harold and Kumar! ... does this mean we can expect a Harold and Kumar go to Mars!?

    August 5, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  31. SilentBoy741

    What a completely insignificant "discovery". What does he think the Martian ice caps are made of, cream cheese?

    August 5, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Hi

      I agree. Ice caps (both north and south) were "discovered in the 1600's. We've been watching them grow and shrink for years.

      August 5, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Robert

      No, it was assumed they were CO2, or "dry ice," or maybe frozen nitrogen. Water is not the only substance that freezes.

      August 5, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • DJCowboy

      Except this is liquid water that they found not frozen and one of the caps is made of CO2, not water. So it is actually fairly significant if it's true.

      August 5, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • nowayjose

      He found sings of liquid water. The word 'liquid' is the key.

      August 5, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • SilentBoy's Daddy

      Are you completely daft? Of course this is significant since liquid water is a building block for life. Ever heard of the primordial soup? It's called a soup for a reason... and I think the fact that Science is publishing this lends more credence than your hyperbole.

      August 5, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Really?

      I want to find a "cream cheese cap". I hope to find a gigantic bagel too, and I will be happy.

      August 5, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  32. ppppppppppth

    Slow news day 2 articles on this eh?

    August 5, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Playjojo

      You and your buddy below are just embarrassments to human nature. Now go along, someone wants fries with that.

      August 5, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  33. Truthwillsetyoufree

    This is dumb, this has been talked about for years. I've seen the pics for years. and even better ones.. Not New!

    August 5, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • automator

      h8ter, u mad bro?

      August 5, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • DJCowboy

      Wow, someone's got sand in their panties

      August 5, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
      • Elian Gonzalez

        Actually, he's mad to be still be working at the last Blockbuster standing.

        What a sad thing it is that this country, with the most successful space program in modern history, takes pride in nothing. Incurious, hostile to anything scientific and completely unaware of How Things Work. The young man should be proud of himself; commenters, not so sure.

        August 5, 2011 at 5:26 pm |

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