Life on Titan? The great Nasa mystery unravels
Speculation is rife over an imminent ‘astrobiology discovery’ announcement by the US space agency
IS NASA about to announce it has found alien life on another planet? That was the gist of the headlines last night after the US space agency issued an invitation to a press conference this Thursday promising an 'astrobiology discovery'.
Details of the announcement, related to an embargoed scientific paper to be published in the December issue of Science, were scant, but there was enough information in the news alert to get alien lovers excited.
"I did a little research on the news conference participants," wrote the blogger Kottke. These were his findings.
• Astrobiologist Pamela Conrad wrote a paper on the geology of Mars;
• Felisa Wolfe-Simon is also an astrobiologist and has written about photosynthesis - the process that plants use to produce sugars - using arsenic instead of water;
• Steven Benner is a Nasa biologist studying Titan, Saturn's largest Moon;
• Ecologist James Elser works on the 'Follow the elements' programme which studies how the distribution of elements affects the evolution of life.
The conclusion? They were clearly going to talk about arsenic-based life on Titan.
Unfortunately it wasn't long before the suggestion that highly toxic extraterrestrial vegetables had been discovered was shot down in flames.
Alexis Madrigal, an editor on The Atlantic, cruelly tweeted: "I'm sad to quell some of the @kottke-induced excitement about possible extraterrestrial life. I've seen the Science paper. It's not that."
Madrigal refused to break the embargo and say what it is about.
Bad Astronomy blogger Phil Plait says: "It's more likely they've found a new way life can exist and that evidence for these conditions exists on other worlds." ·
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