Matthew Chojnacki

Dr. Matthew Chojnacki, U. of A.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019, 2:30-3:30 p.m.,

The Arizona Senior Academy Building 

“Like everyone else, I leave home to go to work.  The only difference is that I work on Mars.’” That is how our speaker might put it if asked about what he did each day.  Dr. Mathew Chojnacki has been going to work on Mars since 2013, when he came to the U. of A. Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (UA-LPL), directly upon receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee. At LPL he is Associate Staff Scientist, specializing in the sands of Mars.  

Bagnold Dune Field, Mars (Courtesy: NASA)

Mars is often referred to as a desert world, for good reason. Sand dunes flow across the surface just as they do in deserts on Earth. In some locations, you could swear you were in the American Southwest, with the scenery being uncannily similar-looking. But Mars is not Earth.  The vast sand dunes on Mars – while visually and aesthetically similar to their earthly counterparts –   differ significantly in how they are formed and how they migrate across the surface of this cold desert world.  Wind has shaped the face of Mars for millennia, but its exact role in piling up sand dunes, carving out rocky escarpments, or filling impact craters has eluded scientists until now.   Understanding how sand and sediment move on Mars may help scientists plan future missions to regions that cannot easily be monitored. As well, it has implications for studying ancient but potentially habitable environments.  It is little wonder that the people who produced the 2015 movie, “The Martian,” came to Chojnacki’s team for advice on how to make their film realistic and accurate.

Dr. Chojnacki is also on the imaging team of the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft, now in orbit around the asteroid Bennu, set to return in 2023 bringing with it a pristine sample of its surface.  The sampling site is right now in process of being chosen, using close-up photographs taken by Dr. Chojnacki and his team. .

Written by Michael Chriss, Academy Village Volunteer 

Sept. 18: “The Sands of Mars”