NASA creates buzz with 'extraterrestrial' announcement

Dec 01, 2010 By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID , AP Science Writer
NASA logo

The US space agency has created a buzz with its announcement of a press conference Thursday to discuss a scientific finding that relates to the hunt for life beyond the planet Earth.

Speculation that life has been discovered beyond Earth exploded on the Internet after NASA announced plans for a briefing involving scientists who study unusual life forms.

The briefing, set for Thursday, focuses on a paper being published in the journal Science, which has not been made public.

But when it is released, the paper will be a disappointment to those speculating about its contents. It does not report finding life outside of Earth, according to science writers who have seen the paper.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science - which publishes the journal in which the research will appear - said Wednesday it has received numerous inquiries about the "mostly erroneous online and/or tabloid speculation about the forthcoming research.

"These reports clearly are not based on the peer-reviewed research being published under the auspices of the journal Science."

The flap began when blogger Jason Kottke speculated on Kottke.org that - based on the areas of expertise of the scientists scheduled to speak - NASA might announce it had found bacterial life on Titan, Saturn's largest moon. That speculation was quickly picked up and repeated by a number of Internet sites.

Because modern science can be complex and hard to explain, major journals such as Nature, Science, Journal of the American Medical Association and others make their papers available to selected science writers in advance. That gives the writers time to prepare their stories. In return, they are required to promise that they will abide by release times for the papers they see in advance.

Kottke, AAAS said Wednesday, is not registered to receive papers in advance.

The headline on his blog was: "Has NASA discovered extraterrestrial life?"

By Wednesday he had added a note to his posting quoting a science writer who does have access to the paper. The answer to the question in the headline, the writer said, is "no."

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User comments : 41

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Sean_W
3.8 / 5 (12) Dec 01, 2010
They have probably found another chemical on or in an asteroid that is important to biological systems. They have probably not found Mars fungus or anything.
shavera
3.3 / 5 (3) Dec 01, 2010
2 limnologists: 1 who studies metal-protein complexes (particularly iron and arsenic)
1 rock analyzing specialist
1 artificial gene/gene synthesis specialist.
My guess: they've found iron-protein traces on rocks on mars.
Modernmystic
3.4 / 5 (13) Dec 01, 2010
Let's hope they have some ACTUAL finding to report...unlike the Mars rock fiasco.

I for one would be excited if they had some definitive proof that life started somewhere else too.
LariAnn
3.5 / 5 (11) Dec 01, 2010
Well, if all they announce is some minutiae that requires speculation in order to be anything near exciting, NASA will lose a lot of credibility when it comes to "announcements".
sstritt
3.3 / 5 (10) Dec 01, 2010
Well, if all they announce is some minutiae that requires speculation in order to be anything near exciting, NASA will lose a lot of credibility when it comes to "announcements".

I hope its not just an attempt to gain public support in these times of impending budget cuts. My fingers are crossed!
acjames
3.6 / 5 (17) Dec 01, 2010
It's sad to see the American public so detached from the measured pace of scientific inquiry that only huge announcements constitutes news to them. This is why journalism is so sensational nowadays. Its the culmination of the TV generation's lack of scientific literacy, and a general demonstration of their childish taste for Nickelodeon-style sensationalism and sound bites.

I find the steady, but agonizingly slow, pace of space exploration news fascinating, and inspiring and creates a sense of wonder in any curious mind.
Though, I would love to see NASA's budget increased to many times it's present size for scientific space exploration by taking it away from wasted defense spending.
jtdrexel
2 / 5 (4) Dec 01, 2010
I doubt that NASA will make an exciting announcement such as... "We have evidence that life exists elsewhere". The government has NASA gripped by the eggs, so i doubt they'll reveal anything that is going to instill some sort of fear or discomfort in the public. Its probably an attempt to gain fans and funding. Anyway, i just don't think they could easily reveal something like that unless they can no longer keep their secrets before the bottle cap busts open! But i too am hoping to hear something exciting!
LariAnn
1.1 / 5 (7) Dec 01, 2010
Perhaps the perception of "agonizingly slow" pace is due to the fact that most of the pictures and data are not available to the public at large. What money has been spent on space exploration has surely resulted in some fascinating discoveries, but unless the results are shared, it is as though it did not happen. I understand the ego of the scientist who, on seeing something really unusual in telemetry data, wants to be THE ONE who brought it to light. If he/she is not in a position to do so, secrecy until the time is right might make sense. The result, of course, is that the most interesting data is not disclosed until long after it is actually discovered. Just more dust, more craters, more ice, etc. For example, how many variations on our dusty Moon can you be shown before it becomes pretty boring? To me, it is being spoon-fed too much that looks like "more of the same" that helps the perception of an "agonizingly slow" pace of discovery.
NotAsleep
3.8 / 5 (4) Dec 01, 2010
It's sad to see the American public so detached from the measured pace of scientific inquiry that only huge announcements constitutes news to them.


I think a more accurate statement would be "It takes a huge announcment to justify stopping work just to watch a news conference." I expect more from a pre-scheduled noon news conference (I'm in mountain time) than a pre-scheduled evening news conference.

It doesn't make sense to build anticipation for information that you would normally give "as it comes" on any other day, unless they're purposely attempting to ruin the perception of pre-scheduled news conferences on as-yet unreleased information
Mr_Man
2 / 5 (9) Dec 01, 2010
This makes me VERY angry.

+1 to anyone who gets the reference.
Modernmystic
1.9 / 5 (9) Dec 01, 2010
Marvin the Martian?
panorama
1 / 5 (2) Dec 01, 2010
This makes me VERY angry.

+1 to anyone who gets the reference.

Marvin the Martian seems appropriate, but I think I remember almost the same line from The Godfather.

e: MM beat me to it...back to the drawing board...
El_Nose
2.2 / 5 (13) Dec 01, 2010
Thursday @ NASA

nasa states: blah blah blah blah
nasa states: we still do really cool stuff
nasa states: yes, you are still too stupid to understand what we do

nasa states: blah blah blah
nasa states: - yeah we need more money
nasa states: did i mention you are my intellectual inferior

nasa states: blah blah blah
nasa states: i said extraterrestial to get you here
nasa states: oh yeah so u do realize we are the ones who do work in space - just wanted to be sure

nasa states: GIVE US MORE MONEY - YOU IMBACILES

that is all...

personally i think they do need more money -- and a lot better oversight
sstritt
3.3 / 5 (12) Dec 01, 2010
"GIVE US MORE MONEY - YOU IMBACILES"
imbeciles?
Ratfish
2.5 / 5 (2) Dec 01, 2010
Seems like real scientists would be more inclined to publish the information the second it is confirmed instead of playing weird PR games.
words2go
2.2 / 5 (5) Dec 01, 2010
I've heard a rumor that the SETI Institute received some sort of signal a few months ago, but that they need to process/analyze the enormous amount of data received to verify. Could this announcement be it?
pauljpease
5 / 5 (6) Dec 01, 2010
I've heard a rumor that the SETI Institute received some sort of signal a few months ago, but that they need to process/analyze the enormous amount of data received to verify. Could this announcement be it?


Please tell us where you heard this rumor so we can check it out ourselves!
googleplex
5 / 5 (1) Dec 01, 2010
Life can operate on different time scales. We have little chance of understanding life with time scale of say 1000 years or 1 million years or an eon.
Mayday
4.3 / 5 (6) Dec 01, 2010
If NASA ever figured out how to do effective PR they'd be dangerous.
Doug_Huffman
1.4 / 5 (10) Dec 01, 2010
Neither NASA nor NPR need effective PR, they've got your tax money in their lock box.
dirk_bruere
4.3 / 5 (3) Dec 01, 2010
It's about some terrestrial bugs that use arsenic in place of phosphorus.
yyz
4.5 / 5 (4) Dec 01, 2010
Looks like the embargo on the news has been broken. The Daily Mail is reporting on discovery of a microbe, found in Mono Lake, CA, that utilizes arsenic instead of phosphorous to sustain itself: http://www.dailym...ets.html
scenage
2 / 5 (2) Dec 01, 2010
Looks like the embargo on the news has been broken. The Daily Mail is reporting on discovery of a microbe, found in Mono Lake, CA, that utilizes arsenic instead of phosphorous to sustain itself: http://www.dailym...ets.html


How disappointing! :/
El_Nose
5 / 5 (1) Dec 01, 2010
hey i realize i suck at spelling
sstritt
1.8 / 5 (5) Dec 01, 2010
Doohhh! Stupid terrestrial microbe! Doesn't it know arsenic is poisonous!
yyz
5 / 5 (3) Dec 01, 2010
While this premature release might be disappointing to some (but given the internet buzz, inevitable, IMO), the finding itself is significant, as it expands the 'parameter space' for life as we know it. I still plan to catch the news conference Thursday for more details.
Magus
4 / 5 (1) Dec 01, 2010
What? I heard about the Microbe thing over a month ago.
Furthermore doesn't that just mean there are 2 different tree's of live on our planet not extraterrestrial.
snwboardn
not rated yet Dec 01, 2010
I've heard a rumor that the SETI Institute received some sort of signal a few months ago, but that they need to process/analyze the enormous amount of data received to verify. Could this announcement be it?


I think SETI is ran completely privately, if they had an announcement I am 99.99% positive that they would not hand it off to NASA to announce it for them. They probably aren't to happy that they were scoffed and taken off the government books to hand decades of work over.

Unless someone twisted their arm...
Bog_Mire
2.6 / 5 (7) Dec 01, 2010
is Sarah palin an alien? I KNEW it!!!
blengi
1 / 5 (2) Dec 02, 2010
Probably just the exobiological pneumatic bubble wrap covering titan's cryonic ice coral substrates -

http://lh6.ggpht....tan2.gif
DanV
1 / 5 (5) Dec 02, 2010
NASA has not been scientifically honest in announcing extra terrestrial life. The responsible officer who tries to play with spectacular publicity is typical in a style of the Opera Winfrey show. At least you can say she is honest, but for science-announcements of this kind, you have to formulate very accurately. Otherwise you loose trust. NASA operates as with less honest old politics. Learn a lesson NASA ! We live in a new time !!
Digi
3 / 5 (1) Dec 02, 2010
If they indicate another form of life has independantly evolved to our own, it is hugely significant news. If the life evolved from our own biology, then that will be a tad disappointing since it puts constraints on where life can initially appear. I can't wait for the announcement.
Husky
not rated yet Dec 02, 2010
from what i've heard the found an earthbound bacteria strain that doesn't need phosphor for its metabolism, wich would make it an exception to all other known organisms
NotAsleep
not rated yet Dec 02, 2010
If the life evolved from our own biology, then that will be a tad disappointing since it puts constraints on where life can initially appear

Only if we assume we know every possible way to start life... it's a big universe, it'll take us a while to have that level of confidence
LuckyBrandon
1.2 / 5 (5) Dec 02, 2010
@acjames-defense spending is NEVER a waste of money there comrad. The TV generation at a young age probably has more understanding of science, not less. its on us to put crap on tv that actually helps them learn. tv is a powerful tool in any hands...it just so happens its currently in money grubbing hands.
@Digi-i would have to disagree that it would be disappointing if it was comprised of the same chemicals as we are. if anything, that would help solidify that we are on the right path in the way we currently look for signs of life. it would allow for a nearly lateral transition for the study of extraterrestrial biology.

Watch, NASA is simply going to say they lost a satellite that had earth born biologoical entities on it.
Digi
not rated yet Dec 02, 2010
Only if we assume we know every possible way to start life... it's a big universe, it'll take us a while to have that level of confidence

I agree, but confidence will gain a huge boost if two forms of life have arisen independantly here on Earth. Who knows what other processes have created weird and wonderful life elsewhere.
Mr_Man
5 / 5 (1) Dec 02, 2010
It's sad to see the American public so detached from the measured pace of scientific inquiry that only huge announcements constitutes news to them. This is why journalism is so sensational nowadays. Its the culmination of the TV generation's lack of scientific literacy, and a general demonstration of their childish taste for Nickelodeon-style sensationalism and sound bites.

I find the steady, but agonizingly slow, pace of space exploration news fascinating, and inspiring and creates a sense of wonder in any curious mind.
Though, I would love to see NASA's budget increased to many times it's present size for scientific space exploration by taking it away from wasted defense spending.


I think your assumption of what the American public finds of interest is unfounded. Maybe media outlets focus on big news, but it is their job to get ratings. Most individual Americans aren't as simple as you might think.. I'm trying to believe that, anyway.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (4) Dec 02, 2010
Told ya so :P
yyz
not rated yet Dec 02, 2010
@MM

"Told ya so :P"

Marvin the Martian eats arsenic or they found Marvin in Mono Lake. Which is it again? :^)
Djincs
1 / 5 (4) Dec 04, 2010
About this life form - alien no, but amazing yes!
http://www.youtub...H2sEcUMw
genastropsychicallst
1 / 5 (3) Dec 05, 2010
Buzz = aero 2 sol. To be read on my website, Albert.

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