Fresh From Mars: Scientist to Describe H20 Discovery

Event Features UT Dallas Prof Who Helped Design NASA’s Phoenix Lander

Aug. 27, 2008

Water on Mars?  Scientists suspected the presence of H2O on the surface of our planetary next-door neighbor, but it took a series of tests and University of Texas at Dallas Professor John Hoffman’s instrument aboard NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander to prove it.

Hoffman will tell audiences at the Museum of Nature & Science at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 30 how he and his team made one of this century’s first major space science discoveries.

The finding prompted NASA to extend the Phoenix mission, which was set to wrap up this month, for another five weeks.  Hoffman, a member of UT Dallas’ William B. Hanson Center for Space Sciences, designed the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA), a combination high-temperature furnace and mass spectrometer instrument that analyzed Martian ice and soil samples, the step needed to prove the existence of water.

“If we could give Dr. Hoffman and his team a ticker-tape parade, we would,” said Steve Hinkley, director of education for the Museum of Nature & Science. “We are thrilled that he will spend a day with us to explain how one of the most persistent scientific questions of our time has been answered.”

The Mars mission update is part of the final weekend of “Eyes on Earth” – the museum’s astronomy and space exhibition sponsored by Lockheed Martin and the UT Dallas.  “Eyes on Earth” was inaugurated on Memorial Day with a live watch party at the museum’s IMAX theater to monitor the risky landing of Phoenix on the planet Mars. An overflow crowd of space enthusiasts gripped their seats as they witnessed the white-knuckled final minutes as the NASA spacecraft concluded its nine-month journey.

During Labor Day weekend, the museum is giving visitors one last chance to explore how satellites work, meet real space pioneers and enjoy hands-on demonstrations and activities suitable for all ages.

In addition to Professor Hoffman, aerospace researcher and developer V. Raj Narayanan will give a peek at cutting-edge technologies that will someday enable commercial space access, transcontinental flights in fewer than three hours and advanced air combat vehicles.

Hoffman’s presentation will include high-resolution images from Mars, stories about the effort to find water there and a look at life on Martian time, which is 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth.  Hoffman worked overnight a few times, going to work 40 minutes later each day as the scientists kept pace with the solar-powered Phoenix spacecraft.

“It’s wonderful to be back in Texas,” Hoffman said.  “I’ve been monitoring Mars Lander experiments from Tucson since the spacecraft landed in May and I am excited to come to the museum to share this story with the public.”
Hoffman will make repeat presentations and take questions from the public at 1 and 3:30 p.m. Reservations and they and museum tickets are available online at https://emuseum.natureandscience.org/generaladmission.aspx. The Museum of Nature & Science is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Sunday when it is open from noon to 5 p.m.

“I’ve been a space scientist for a long time, doing work on the Apollo missions to the moon and on Haley’s Comet in 1986,” Hoffman said.  “Helping find water on Mars ranks among my most thrilling professional accomplishments.  I’m eager to share that story.”

For more information and a schedule of the Labor Day events at the Museum of Nature & Science, visit: www.natureandscience.org.


Media contacts: Brandon V. Webb, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, Brandon.webb@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu

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About Dr. John Hoffman

Dr. Hoffman’s instruments have helped unpack the mysteries of our solar system from three Apollo missions to the moon, to the Pioneer Mission to Venus in 1978, to the Phoenix Mission to Mars in 2008.

His spectrometer helped explore Haley’s Comet in 1986, and his experiments still revolve around the Earth on a handful of orbiting satellites.  The Phoenix Mars Mission depends heavily on his work.

     

 

On the Red Planet

 

NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander's Surface Stereo Imager took this photo of a retrieved soil sample on the 70th Martian day of the mission.

 

 

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University)

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