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Reality Check: NASA Blurb Sparks Runaway Speculation About Possible Alien Life

The announcement ofa NASA press conference slated for tomorrow (Dec. 2) has set theInternet abuzz with rumors that scientists have discoveredextraterrestrial life.

NASA announcedMonday (Nov. 29) that it will hold a pressconference Thursdayto discuss new findings "that will impact the search forextraterrestrial life." Participants include several scientistsinvolved in the hunt for lifebeyond Earth, as well as researchersstudying extreme forms of life on our own planet.

These details sentspeculation into overdrive on the Internet. One prominent rumor isthat microbial life has been found onTitan, Saturn's largest moon.

One early exponentof that rumor was blogger Jason Kottke, who speculated about the possibility of Titan life on Monday.

The NASA pressconference will discuss a study being published at 2 p.m. EST (1900GMT) Thursday in the journal Science. The research is embargoed untilthen. Under the embargo system, some science journalists get anadvance look at papers, under the agreement that they will not revealthe findings until the research is published.

The swirl ofspeculation led many reporters to contact the American Associationfor the Advancement of Science, which publishes Science, asking ifthe embargo is still in effect.

"We did getabout a dozen inquiries from registered reporters, who wereconfused," Ginger Pinholster, director of public programs atAAAS, told SPACE.com.

In response, AAASsent an e-mail to journalists, informing them that the embargo hasnot been lifted.

"That'sstandard protocol for something like this," Pinholster said."It's just a pre-emptive note."

So are the bloggersonto something? Will scientists make an Earth-shaking announcementtomorrow? Perhaps not, since science journalists have already throwncold water on some of the most breathless rumors. [10Alien Encounters Debunked]

Kottke, for example,has updated his blog post to include a tweet from The Atlantic'sAlexis Madrigal.

"I'm sad toquell some of the @kottke-induced excitement about possibleextraterrestrial life," Madrigal's Nov. 30 tweet reads. "I'veseen the Science paper. It's not that."

To find out exactlywhat the researchers have discovered, everyone will just have to waitfor the press conference. Pinholster, for one, will probably be gladwhen the facts come out and the speculation stops.

"Some of thecoverage has been almost comically erroneous," Pinholster said."I'm hopeful that we'll see many more responsible stories comingout after the embargo lifts."

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