Put on your fancy speculatin’ britches, because NASA released a statement that they’re holding a press conference at 2 p.m. EST this Thursday to “discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.” They also listed the participants, and Kottke wrote a good run down on them:
- Pamela Conrad (a geobiologist) was the primary author of a 2009 paper on geology and life on Mars.
- Felisa Wolfe-Simon (an oceanographer) has written extensively on photosynthesis using arsenic recently (she worked on the team mentioned in this article).
- Steven Benner (a biologist) is on the “Titan Team” at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; they’re looking at Titan (Saturn’s largest moon) as an early-Earth-like chemical environment. This is likely related to the Cassini mission.
- James Elser (an ecologist) is involved with a NASA-funded astrobiology program called Follow the Elements, which emphasizes looking at the chemistry of environments where life evolves (and not just looking at water or carbon or oxygen).
Also participating will be Mary Voytek, the director of the Astrobiology Program at NASA Headquarters. Considering the backgrounds of the participants, I’m guessing this has something to do with the possibility of a new type of life form on Saturn’s moon Titan, one that could use something other than water as a liquid medium to sustain life. Or this may be in regards to the recent discovery of oxygen on Saturn’s moon Rhea (oxygen has previously been discovered on Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede).
Unfortunately, the announcement isn’t likely to be as cool as the NASA press release makes it sound. Phil Plait is urging people to keep wild speculations to a minimum, and Alexis Madrigal (the senior technology editor for “The Atlantic”) has actually read the science paper in question and tweeted that it isn’t an announcement of the discovery of extraterrestrial life. Ah, so it’s just something that impacts our search for evidence of extraterrestrial life? Meh. Wake me when the aliens are here and probing me. No, really, wake me up. I’ve slept through that sort of thing before.
[Banner pic via OutgayedMyself, which is what I just did with that last joke.]