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NASA Space Science

Curious NASA Pre-Announcement 286

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the phone-gnome dept.
CrtxReavr was one of a small avalanche of readers to let us know about a press conference NASA scheduled for Thursday at 2pm to discuss an "astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life." I've heard rumors ranging from "proof of life on Titan" to "first contact," depending on how optimistic/crazy you are.
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Curious NASA Pre-Announcement

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @03:15PM (#34392662)

    Methinks you might want to expand your range at the bottom a bit. I suspect it will be something along the lines of "We've discovered evidence that some precursor to life may have been present on this extraterrestrial body--or may not, depending heavily on your interpretation of some very ambiguous data."

    • by geegel (1587009) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @03:16PM (#34392682)

      You just had to ruin it, didn't you?

    • That's far too wordy.

      NASA could take a tip from Apple's Marketting department.

      Nasa? Seriously? Just get any one of your guys to go any old bar. Leave a moon-rock sample or whatever it is you've found on a table there, someone will find it and post about it on their blog and it'll drive people into hysteria.

      None of this "Scheduling announcements" - just deny absolutely everything about what you might actually want to announce and let the geeks build it up.

      • by elrous0 (869638) *

        In NASA's defense, they always have some great animation to go along with their press conferences. It's the only deliverable they consistently produce.

    • by oodaloop (1229816) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @03:20PM (#34392752)
      Way to blow your shot at FR1ST CN0TACT post. Nice going.
    • by Thelasko (1196535) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @03:21PM (#34392774) Journal
      It probably has to do with the recent discovery of oxygen on Saturn's moon Rhea. [discovermagazine.com]
      • by UID30 (176734) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @03:57PM (#34393426)
        Meh. CommanderTaco made first contact with Uranus years ago. BAZINGA!
      • It probably has to do with the recent discovery of oxygen on saturn's moon Rhea.

        Doubtful, for two reasons: (a) that has already been announced, and (b) the oxygen there has a plausible nonbiological origin (energetic particles in Saturn's magnetic field interacting with water ice on the surface).

        The smart money says this press announcement will be disappointing to most people. Not unlike like the whole Apple/Beatles thing.

        • by Thelasko (1196535)

          The smart money says this press announcement will be disappointing to most people.

          Which is why I think it's about oxygen on Rhea.

          It will probably be something like, "You know about the trace amounts of oxygen on Rhea, but we put some streptococcus bacteria in a similar concentration of oxygen, and they survived for 3 days!"

        • by pz (113803) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @06:04PM (#34395906) Journal

          It probably has to do with the recent discovery of oxygen on saturn's moon Rhea.

          Doubtful, for two reasons: (a) that has already been announced, and (b) the oxygen there has a plausible nonbiological origin (energetic particles in Saturn's magnetic field interacting with water ice on the surface).

          The smart money says this press announcement will be disappointing to most people. Not unlike like the whole Apple/Beatles thing.

          Extra doubtful that it's about Rhea because Carolyn Porco, the head of the Cassini project, isn't on the list of participants.

          Doing a few minutes' worth of work in Google comes to the following information about the listed participants in the press conference:

          Mary Voytek -- director, NASA Astrobiology program
          Felisa Wolfe-Simon -- evolutionary biology including metallic enzymes, specifically the potential role of arsenic in DNA
          Pamela Conrad -- biogeochemistry and organic chemical signatures of extremophiles
          Steven Benner -- geobiology of RNA, including detection of DNA and RNA
          James Elser -- the influence of nitrogen and phosphorus in biological processes including ecosystems, speciation and RNA

          Since the announcement of the press conference says that the finding will impact the "search for evidence of extraterrestrial life," chances are they've found some potential signature of a metabolic process. Notwithstanding what I said above about Carolyn Porco, Cassini flew within 100 km of Rhea earlier this year (March) to "determine what is coming off Rhea" according to NASA's site on the flyby. The timing (March to December) fits well with the amount of time it takes to do data analysis, write a paper, and have it accepted for publication for something that gets fast-tracked. Science is published on Fridays. Nature is published on Thursdays. It would seem like the paper is going to appear in Nature no matter what the exact announcement is.
           

          • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @09:01PM (#34398004) Homepage

            Since the announcement of the press conference says that the finding will impact the "search for evidence of extraterrestrial life," chances are they've found some potential signature of a metabolic process.

            Hmmm... taking what you said about the lack of the Cassini project lead to heart, and noting a lack of anyone attached to any particular observatory project in that list... Is it possible that the announcement won't actually be about a particular astronomical observation at all?

            Could it be that these scientists have discovered a plausible biological reaction which could take place in different extraterrestrial environments that simply gives them something new to look for in the future? That would count as an astrobiological finding, and would certainly impact the search for evidence of life.

            But would be liable to be even more disappointing to many people. :)

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mibe (1778804)

      NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.

      For the "future of life" bit, could be something cool relating to our ability to live in space. After all, our current body of evidence suggests that we're the future of extraterrestrial life (speculation about Thursday notwithstanding).

    • by RsG (809189)

      Which will, of course, be picked up be the media as "NASA finds extraterrestrials!" instead of the more accurate "NASA finds preliminary evidence of microbial life." And then stupid people will feel betrayed when it's explained to them that, no, this does not mean little grey men with probes.

      Why people continue to fall for sensationalist reporting is beyond me, it's getting really really predictable. Or maybe I'm just getting old.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by durrr (1316311)
      It might be news from the O/OREOS satellite launched a few days ago. according to wiki it's supposed to rehydrate/feed a bunch of extremophiles on board a "few days" after launch. Given the time for bacterial growth cycles they could quite likely have news already fromt his one, which would probably either be "bacteria revived in microgravity thrives perfectly well in!" or "bacteria revived in microgravity catch fire and die"
    • Or it might be a very lame announcement like: "we have discovered a new way to SEARCH for life using blahblahmetry, so we're going to start using this new techniques in our next probes"
      This is very close to: "astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence...."

      Or... is something amazing we're about find out within the recent Wikileak
    • It says that the finding will impact "the search for evidence", which makes me think even you are being a bit optimistic. My bet is on "we have developed a technique that could be used to find evidence that some precursor to life may have been present on a given extraterrestrial body -- or may not, depending heavily on your interpretation of the very ambiguous data this technique will provide."
  • by oldspewey (1303305) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @03:16PM (#34392672)
    If there is life swimming in a big ocean under the ice of Europa, the question becomes: how does it taste?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @03:16PM (#34392674)

    they found that the astrobiology budget was cut

  • by bl8n8r (649187) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @03:17PM (#34392696)
    "NASA believes it has found vital clues that alien life does indeed exist on Titan, "
    http://news.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474978743812
  • Last I heard, interpretation the Mars rock was "inconclusive."

    Maybe they've figured something out.

  • Or maybe they want to talk about a discovery confirming the suitability of possible targets [technologyreview.com] for life or colonization? I'm guessing it's something along those lines ... or perhaps they have a target that they think they can deploy bacteria to that will provide a better atmosphere for possible habitation in the distant future?

    Think about it though. Would NASA announce contact or, you know, the president? I'm guessing that the politicians would be all over this claiming credit if it was something that
  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @03:18PM (#34392712)

    Did they find the ancient gene?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Please leave KISS out of this.

  • by drumcat (1659893) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @03:18PM (#34392716)
    They want you talking about aliens instead of TSA Gate Rape and Wikileaks. Simple as that.
  • ya? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nege (263655)

    I am totally jaded. When I see something like this I read it as "NASA calls press conference to remind government and people they are still here and need money, because what they do is really, really cool". Of course, I agree too, but I would be surprised if there was really any kind of life found. Prove me wrong NASA! I, for one, would welcome our new alien-insect overlords!

    • The astrobiological finding is probably that their budget has been cut, once again, and the impact it has on the search for evidence of ET Life is that they won't anymore.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by elrous0 (869638) *

      NASA Administrator: We're putting a man on Mars!
      Reporter: When?
      NASA Administrator: 2055!
      Reporter: Long after your administration is gone and no longer around to be held accountable for any long-forgotten promises?
      NASA Administrator Yep!
      Reporter: What if 2055 comes along and we're no closer then to Mars than now?
      NASA Administrator: Well, you'll have to ask the NASA administrator about it then.
      Reporter: What if you're still alive and we ask you?
      NASA Administrator: I'll blame him.
      Reporter: Do you have anything

  • by Quato (132194) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @03:18PM (#34392720)
    One of the NASA guys got laid!
  • Maybe Bugs Bunny found Marvin?

  • Oh, I know (Score:4, Funny)

    by bhcompy (1877290) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @03:20PM (#34392758)
    They found Jita, but their probe got ganked trying to dock with the docking station. $300m in PLEX were lost
  • First contact probably went like this:
    NASA: "hello, you extremophile procariot. Take us to your leader"
    ""
    NASA: "hmm, he's being uncooperative. TASE him!"
    ""
    NASA: BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

  • It is probably all marketing fluff. NASA is taking a page from Apple.

    Probably Beatles music has been beamed in the direction of Alpha Centuri.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Zocalo (252965)
      Oh yeah, because that's one sure fire way of getting along with the stellar neighbours. Send them some "free" music today then, in a few weeks time, the RIAA sends in the lawyers and all their base belong to us...

      Um, 3 - profit???
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by zenjah (989288)
      Perhaps the Beatles will finally be available on the International Space Station?
    • by glwtta (532858)
      It is probably all marketing fluff. NASA is taking a page from Apple.

      No, no, I'm sure it's the First Contact thing - that's the only reasonable assumption.
    • Probably Beatles music has been beamed in the direction of Alpha Centuri.

      Big mistake. A little over four years from now:

      "War Leader Kqaac, our translators say that the Earthlings believe that all you need is love."
      "Excellent, then the Earthlings have no defenses! Launch the attack fleets!"

    • Probably Beatles music has been beamed in the direction of Alpha Centuri.

      Not going to happen. Perhaps the biggest copyright wtf in the history of humanity: "Astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan had wanted [Here Comes The Sun] to be included on the Voyager Golden Record, copies of which were attached to both spacecraft of the Voyager program to provide any entity that recovered them a representative sample of human civilization. Although The Beatles favoured the idea, EMI refused to release the rights and when the probes were launched in 1977 the song was not included."

  • Maybe we found another universe....

    "I have reached the Gateway to another Universe. I feel awed and strangely humbled by the momentous solemnity of this occasion..."

    "HEY OTHER UNIVERSE! BITE MY SHINY METAL ASS!"

  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @03:26PM (#34392898)
  • My guess (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thesandtiger (819476) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @03:28PM (#34392926)

    Spectroscopy showing a celestial body (or bodies) is in a state of chemical disequilibrium considered to be suggestive of life.

    • by scrib (1277042)

      That's just what I was going to say!

      More or less... I read "astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life" as exactly that with the implied addition of "we found a promising target for a future mission! So we'll be needing to keep our jobs and get some more funding, tenkyuvedymuch."

  • by Caerdwyn (829058) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @03:28PM (#34392936) Journal
    They found Fwiffo on Pluto.
  • They have found it!
  • by Lilith's Heart-shape (1224784) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @03:37PM (#34393082) Homepage
    Please let it be a black monolith on the moon. We're only nine years late.
  • "We called you all here today so that we may announce that we can actually make budget next year AND do something with it! WOOOOOOO!"

    (stunned gasps from audience)

  • If you don't mind bad science but a decent story, check out Deception Point by Dan Brown.

    tldr; NASA fakes ET for more funding.

  • by tetrahedrassface (675645) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @03:47PM (#34393244) Journal
    Some word out on the web, including NASA funded astrobiology teams (there are fourteen), seem to indicate the possibility of them finding something strange here on Mother Earth, probably something in or around Mono Lake according to some people and its arsenic based life forms [astrobio.net]. Since the major announcement last June by NASA concerning 'Titan and the Case of the Missing Hydrogen' [redorbit.com]. In fact one of the ladies on the panel this Thursday is in fact the researcher who is studying possible arsenic based life forms in Mono Lake. I'd say that she found something. One thing for certain, with the embargo we won't know for sure until Thursday. :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MozeeToby (1163751)

      I think we have a winner here. The article you linked mentions that she expects to see results over the next several months and was written slightly more than a year ago. That gives enough time to get results, tweak the experiment, analyze the results, even completely re-run the experiment if you think the results are ground breaking enough. The time span seems right, the other speakers are in related fields, it has direct influence on astrobiology. Specifically, it makes Titan a very interesting place

  • "proof of life on Titan" to "first contact,"

    How about the fanatically optimistic view: "First contact by civilization on Titan."

  • Here we go... Mars Rock all over again... NASA must want more grant money
    (very publicly/loudly) "Proof of extraterrestrial life!"
    (very privately/quietly and AFTER grant money comes through) "Whoops, sorry, it was actually a normal crystal formation"
  • My bet is that they're just going to tell us that the news Earth's Water Didn't Come From Outer Space [slashdot.org] will "impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life" in some minor way.
  • .... instead the NASA managed a "first post" on slashdot story. Sources are cited that chances for that are slightly lower than finding intelligent life on Mars or GOP convention.

  • a stargate and figured out how to make it work. But now the aliens know we exist...
  • What else could it be?

  • Documents (Score:4, Funny)

    by spitzak (4019) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @05:04PM (#34394846) Homepage

    Not only alien life, they have a trove of hundreds of thousands of documents from the alien government! Describing advanced graft and corruption abilities that are centuries beyond our own!

  • A few clues.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TomRC (231027) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @05:08PM (#34394908)

    If you look at the list of participants, it may provide a clue:

    Participants are:
    - Mary Voytek, director, Astrobiology Program, NASA Headquarters, Washington
    - Felisa Wolfe-Simon, NASA astrobiology research fellow, U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, Calif.
    - Pamela Conrad, astrobiologist, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
    - Steven Benner, distinguished fellow, Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, Gainesville, Fla.
    - James Elser, professor, Arizona State University, Tempe

    If you follow up the connection of James Elser to NASA, it turns out to be a project called "Follow the Elements"

    http://astrobiology.asu.edu/Astrobiology/Home/Home.html [asu.edu]

    So I'm guessing that they've found certain exo-planets in the Goldilocks zone that have the right balance of precursor elements/molecules for life.

  • by anzha (138288) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @05:09PM (#34394948) Homepage Journal
    One of the individuals in the scheduled press announcement has a website [ironlisa.com] and based on her work [ironlisa.com] my bet is that they may have found some indications that there is life on earth that uses arsenic instead of phosphorus.
  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @06:18PM (#34396134)

    I wonder if this will be big enough news to distract people from the scandals arising from the Wikileaks thing.

    Also, look for Octo-Moms to lead police on high-speed chases in Black SUVs over the coming days. Down a well.

    -FL

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