Reality Check: NASA Blurb Sparks Runaway Speculation About Possible Alien Life
The announcement of a NASA press conference slated for tomorrow (Dec. 2) has set the Internet abuzz with rumors that scientists have discovered extraterrestrial life.
NASA announced Monday (Nov. 29) that it will hold a press conference Thursday to discuss new findings "that will impact the search for extraterrestrial life." Participants include several scientists involved in the hunt for life beyond Earth, as well as researchers studying extreme forms of life on our own planet.
These details sent speculation into overdrive on the Internet. One prominent rumor is that microbial life has been found on Titan, Saturn's largest moon.
One early exponent of that rumor was blogger Jason Kottke, who speculated about the possibility of Titan life on Monday.
The NASA press conference will discuss a study being published at 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT) Thursday in the journal Science. The research is embargoed until then. Under the embargo system, some science journalists get an advance look at papers, under the agreement that they will not reveal the findings until the research is published.
The swirl of speculation led many reporters to contact the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes Science, asking if the embargo is still in effect.
"We did get about a dozen inquiries from registered reporters, who were confused," Ginger Pinholster, director of public programs at AAAS, told SPACE.com.
In response, AAAS sent an e-mail to journalists, informing them that the embargo has not been lifted.
"That's standard protocol for something like this," Pinholster said. "It's just a pre-emptive note."
So are the bloggers onto something? Will scientists make an Earth-shaking announcement tomorrow? Perhaps not, since science journalists have already thrown cold water on some of the most breathless rumors. [10 Alien Encounters Debunked]
Kottke, for example, has updated his blog post to include a tweet from The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal.
"I'm sad to quell some of the @kottke-induced excitement about possible extraterrestrial life," Madrigal's Nov. 30 tweet reads. "I've seen the Science paper. It's not that."
To find out exactly what the researchers have discovered, everyone will just have to wait for the press conference. Pinholster, for one, will probably be glad when the facts come out and the speculation stops.
"Some of the coverage has been almost comically erroneous," Pinholster said. "I'm hopeful that we'll see many more responsible stories coming out after the embargo lifts."
- 10 Alien Encounters Debunked
- The Strangest Alien Planets
- NASA to Unveil Discovery That Affects Search for Extraterrestrial Life
You can follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter: @michaeldwall.
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