Monday, August 15, 2022

U of W student working with NASA to study Mars

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One University of Winnipeg student is helping NASA study the red planet.

Nathalie Turenne is working as a science payload uplink lead to help look for rocks on Mars, specifically looking for rocks that are different in texture and and colourations, as well as observing different materials in the rocks.

Through this role, Turenne works with the SuperCam – a remote sensing instrument — and analyzes data collected by NASA’s Perseverance Rover. 

“I help make what are called rasters, which are the points in which the laser will hit the rocks,” she said in an interview on Tuesday.

“So I’m really involved in picking those rocks and identifying different rocks of interest that we can look at for different science intents.”

Turenne noted that what she sees on Mars is a lot different from Earth. However, there are some similarities.

“Everything on Mars is very red or orangey due to the iron content that’s there. Everything is really different. There’s no vegetation obviously, so it’s a very different environment,” she said.

“But we see things that are very similar to Earth – different layering, different textures that we can see here, but it’s pretty neat.”

Turenne also looks for signs of life on Mars. Through her research as a master’s student she looks for carbonates, which are good at preserving signs of life, such as microbes.

“We’re trying to go look at the carbonates that have been orbitally detected on Mars, so that is one of the things we’re looking for,” Turenne said.


Turenne got the job with NASA through her work as a research assistant for a professor at the University of Winnipeg.

Turenne, who was a Bachelor’s in Environmental Science student at the university, noted when she started working with the professor, she didn’t know a lot about what he researched.

“He’s a really renowned planetary scientist and so I got involved in the Mars mission that way through him with his collaborators,” she said.

– With files from CTV’s Rachel Lagace.

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