NASA links to student's site

November 17, 2005, vol. 34, no. 6
By David Leidl

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Whispered across millions of kilometres of space, the data stream from the Mariner 9 orbiter appeared on the CRT screens. It was 1971. The fuzzy images awed the NASA boffins and the world.

On the cold face of Mars, a skein of canyons 10 kilometres deep in places and 4,000 kilometres long, twisted like a vast scar. Utterly unexpected, there lay what's now called the Valles Marineris (Mariner Valley), the solar system's monster canyon.

Today, scientists and spacecraft probe its deep rifts, debate its creation and speculate on what lies under the blotchy umber rock and burnt-red soil.

Today too, thanks to SFU earth sciences undergrad Kerry Cupit, the public can do the same since the Martian overview is just a click or two away.

Two years ago Cupit wrote a brief paper to distill the leading theories about the canyon. Dan Marshall, SFU associate professor of geochemistry, was impressed by the scientifically pithy yet readable report, describing Cupit as “quite keen and industrious” and “very interested in planetary geology.”

Many others now share that opinion.

Cupit posted the report on his website Orbiting the web, someone at NASA liked it and linked it to the space agency's public-access portal. “I look at my website from day to day and then, all of a sudden, one day I saw it [the hits] jump by 3,000 per cent (20 a day to 600).” Cupit chuckles. “It was quite an interesting moment.”

It was also done without his knowledge but for any aspiring planetary geologist Cupit, 24, says the NASA nod was heartening: “These are the people who I hope one day to work alongside and yet I'm still working on my foundations in earth science. It's encouraging to see someone, at least on some level, validate my work as an introduction to planetary geology, at least for a layman's version.”

In his online resume, computer-savvy Cupit seeks work in Web development or graphic design, but that's job-market pragmatism. As a child, he gravitated to the sciences and, frankly, now prefers rocks over RAM. The more unearthly, the better.

“I'm much more interested in planetary geology than in terrestrial geology, but there's a whole realm of groundwork that has to be done obviously, in terrestrial geology so you can apply it to other planets. If I was offered a job in either of those fields, I would definitely take it. Something in planetary geology, I would take in a second.”
NASA, are you receiving this?

To view the NASA/Cupit link, click shaped the region at

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