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Scientist to speak at COC

Posted: August 27, 2009 8:30 p.m.
Updated: August 28, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Local astronomy students and enthusiasts will have the opportunity tonight to learn about the Phoenix Mission to Mars from a scientist who was directly involved.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Robert Denise presents "Results of the Phoenix Mission (to Mars)" from 7:30 to 9 p.m. today, hosted by College of the Canyons astronomy and physics department in collaboration with The Local Group Astronomy Club of Santa Clarita Valley in COC's Aliso Hall room 108. Admission is free.

Denise, a Santa Clarita resident, has worked at NASA for more than 14 years, most recently as Tactical Mission Manager for the Surface Phase of the Phoenix Mission, according to a news release provided by COC.

"This is a rare opportunity for anyone with an interest in space and astronomy to learn more about this ground-breaking mission from someone who was part of it, from start to finish," said Ram Manvi, dean of mathematics, sciences and engineering at the college, in a written statement.

Launched on Aug. 4, 2007, NASA's Phoenix spacecraft traveled 423 million miles to the red planet, where it landed on May 25, 2008. For five months, Phoenix collected data in a Martian arctic plain that would help determine the planet's history of water and its ability to support life, according to the news release.

"Not only did we find water ice, as expected, but the soil chemistry and minerals we observed lead us to believe this site had a wetter and warmer climate in the recent past-the last few million years-and could again in the future," said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith, according to the mission's Web site.

Steve Petzold, president of the local Astronomy Club, expects the presentation to be a rewarding experience for group members, astronomy students and the general public.

"Mars is always a great topic of interest because people have interest in Mars," Petzold said. "People have interest in Mars because it has an atmosphere, they've detected water there and signs of erosion. Water is a precursor to having life and everyone wants to prove there's life somewhere other than the earth."


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