The student who discovered water on Mars says it was a 'lucky accident'

Lujendra Ojha
Image caption Lujendra Ojha moved to America with his father, who's also a scientist, after he got a job at the University of Arizona in 2005

For most university students finding a job and perhaps even moving away from home would be a pretty big deal.

But then there are always those people who buck the trend and put the collective achievements of the rest of us in the shade.

Lujendra Ojha is one of those people.

That's because he's just helped to confirm signs of water on Mars. His discovery, which he first noticed five years ago, could increase the chances of finding life on the red planet.

The 25-year-old came across "streaks flowing on the surface of Mars" while conducting independent research as an undergraduate at the University of Arizona in 2010.

Lujendra Ojha
Image caption Lujendra Ojha used to play guitar in a heavy metal band called Gorkha

"I just happened to have the biggest accident of my life," Lujendra told Newsbeat from a conference in France.

These 'streaks' are thought to be the result of liquid water running down canyons and crater walls over the summer months on Mars.

The trickles leave long, dark stains on the planet before they dry up in the autumn as surface temperatures drop.

"One thing that we did in this newest study is look at the surface of Mars in a different light," Lujendra explained.

"We look at both visible light and infrared light and based on how different materials absorb light, we can compare that with the laboratory data and make some inference about what kind of materials are present."

Recurring slope lineae
Image caption Dark streaks: Recurring slope lineae can be hundreds of metres long

Using a Nasa instrument called Crism, Lujendra and his team were able to tell that these 'streaks' are covered with salts.

These salts can drop the freezing point of water by 80C and its vaporisation rate by a factor of 10.

All of which means water is able to stay stable long enough to trickle down the hills and crater walls of Mars.

This has all got scientists and space enthusiasts incredibly excited, for one big reason.

If there's water on the planet, there's a greater chance that there could have been, or even is, some form of life on Mars.

Recurring slope lineae
Image caption Any mission to planets like Mars would have to guarantee no contamination from Earth

"Nasa put out a press release saying 'Major mystery solved' but I think we've barely even scratched the surface," thinks Lujendra.

"We need to find out where this water is coming from. The other question is, 'How much water exactly is there?'"

Luju, as he's known to friends, has a year left in his postgraduate planetary science degree at the State of Georgia Institute of Technology.

Then he says he'll be trying to get a job - we're thinking he won't be short of an offer or two.

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