A “huge” NASA announcement today?

A “huge” NASA announcement today?

A “huge” NASA announcement today?

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
March 9 2006 11:07 AM

A “huge” NASA announcement today?

'Update (12:00 p.m. Pacific time): a press release has been made about this by the Cassini Imaging Team.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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I have been getting email about a potentially "huge" NASA announcement scheduled for 2:00 p.m. today (Eastern) . It was originally broken by a Florida news station (the link may be down due to its getting slammed), but it looks as if this is somewhat overblown.

Keith Cowing at NASAWatch.com looked into it earlier (being on the west coast puts me behind other investigators, dagnappit) and he says that this may be a case of someone in the media getting overzealous, and the story snowballed. The story (which is up at Matt Drudge's website *) is about plumes of what is possibly water from geysers on Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons, which would be pretty cool -- liquid water is not definitively known to exist anywhere else in the solar system but here (Europa's undersurface ocean is inferred, and probably real, but not directly detected) , and Enceladus is known to have plumes (the image at the top of this post shows one such plume back in November 2005). Liquid water on another body in the solar system really is amazing stuff!

So while this is a pretty interesting story to say the least, it's not enough to cause quite the hubbub it has in the media. So what's going on? It turns out that in their announcement, the Florida news station talked about "possible life in our solar system" which is certainly jumping a very large gun and is not at all a warranted from the scientific claims in the press release.

We'll see what's what in a few hours, I suppose. In the meantime, Keith at NASAWatch makes an excellent point in his article: clearly the media, and the public, think that looking for life is big news. So why is NASA gutting the astrobiology budget?

* Drudge's posting of the press release appears to violate an embargo, a voluntary delay in the releasing of news so that everyone gets an equal share of being able to report it. I would never break an embargo (and for some reason I never got this press release that Drudge has, which is odd), but since it's already up on the Drudge report, and the email is flying, it's best in my opinion to get this out in the open now.'