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The Nepalese-American Death Metal Rocker Who Discovered Water on Mars

by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang /
 A screenshot of Lujendra Ojha's personal website, which features him playing guitar.

Nepalis, Nepalese Americans, Arizonans, and death metal rockers are all rushing to congratulate and claim young Lujendra "Luju" Ojha, the 25-year-old graduate student who was part of the team that helped confirm the existence of liquid flowing water on Mars, as announced by NASA this week.

“Certainly it’s a great achievement for me and for the whole team as well,” Ojha told NBC News. “I am receiving great messages, which is encouraging me a lot. I am really feeling grateful.”

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey issued a special recognition honoring Ojha, a Nepalese-American immigrant who first came to Arizona with his parents at age 15. His father started as a graduate student at the University of Arizona and is now a researcher there.

Ojha first discovered evidence of water on Mars in 2011 when he was an undergraduate at the University of Arizona working with Professor Alfred McEwen on analyzing photographs from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). He is now a PhD candidate at the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. In his spare time, he studies earthquakes in Nepal.

"I said screw music, let's go to science, maybe there's more money in it. But there isn't money in science either."

“My main research interest is understanding the evolution of terrestrial planets. I am passionate about studying present day geological features on planetary bodies across the solar system. I have worked on Earth, Mars, Moon, asteroids, comets and have also classified various meteorites," Ojha writes on his personal website. "With the profound knowledge that I am a unified mind and body composed of stardust, I am not doing science, I am merely trying to understand my genesis and share that knowledge."

The photograph on Ojha's website of him rocking out with long hair and electric guitar and his heavy metal band, Gorkha, has also had everybody talking.

"Yeah, that was an old life," Ojha told CNET. "I was kind of in poverty with music. I wasn't making enough money so I said screw music, let's go to science, maybe there's more money in it. But there isn't money in science either."