The Olympic ski jumper who found water on Mars

Cosmos Magazine


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By Cosmos

Matt Damon may be hitting the big screens in The Martian at the moment, but another Matt – planetary geologist Matt Chojnacki – just helped find real water on the Red Planet.

He co-authored the recent Nature Geoscience paper describing the discovery of brine flows on Mars. 

But before his life in science he was a US Olympic ski jumper, and in 2001 netted himself a Guinness World Record for a quadruple back somersault with four twists.

The video above features a profile the University of Tennessee put together in 2011.

Chojnacki spoke to us about his former and present life.

“I often get the question of what’s the tie between the two – they’re both very obscure and take a little while to explain to people, but they both take a lot of dedication – I learnt a lot of skills in ski jumping that I would apply later in planetary science. 

“I credit when I blew my knee out when I was 19 – I had double knee surgery and I a long time to sit on the couch and recover. I had time to read and contemplate life and I got very excited about physics. And then I went and received an undergraduate degree in physics and planetary science.”

Since completing his PhD at the University of Tennessee in 2013, he has been studying the evolution of Mars’ geology, morphology and climate. Chojnacki is currently an associate scientist of the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) – a high-resolution camera currently on board NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. 

So what kind of ski jumping might be mustered up on the Red Planet?

“I’ve actually thought of that! The polar caps have snow and they have slopes and their gravity is only a third of what you have here – so it would be a great place for aerials! Preposterous – but why not dream, you know.”

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