NASA honors Univ. of Iowa scientist with Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal
Jasper Halekas, associate physics and astronomy professor at the University of Iowa, has won an Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal from NASA, for "exceptional contributions to MAVEN's science return using the Solar Wind Ion Analyzer (SWIA) instrument."
Halekas is the principal investigator on the SWIA instrument, which this month contributed to the finding that hydrogen escape – and thus water loss – from Mars's atmosphere varied dramatically depending on the planet's distance from the sun. This loss had long been assumed to be more or less constant, like a slow leak in a tire.
The NASA medal is awarded for exceptional contributions toward the achievement of the NASA mission. NASA awarded only seven Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medals in 2016.
In November 2015, NASA announced the MAVEN mission was able to determine the rate at which the Martian atmosphere is currently losing gas to space due to stripping by the solar wind. This may be why Mars's early, warm, wet climate–one that may have been able to support life–changed into its current cold, dry desert climate.