E.T. found? (False) rumors swirl

Rumors and speculation are swirling on the Internet about the subject of a news conference to be carried live at 2 p.m. ET Thursday on NASA TV “to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.”

“Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe,” NASA explains in its advisory. And that’s about as much as the space agency is saying about the discovery right now. However, the advisory includes a list of the speakers for the briefing. That’s what led to the online guessing game.

Among those speakers is Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a researcher at the U.S. Geological Survey who says she’s concentrating on “arsenic biogeochemistry, cyanobacteria, novel uses for as yet undescribed metalloenzymes and of course, arsenic-based life!”

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Other speakers include NASA astrobiologist Pamela Conrad, who specializes in planetary habitability assessment; Steven Benner of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, who studies the chemical foundations of biology; and Arizona State University’s James Elser, who focuses on life in extreme environments.

Blogger Jason Kottke put all those pieces together and speculated that Thursday’s announcement would be about the discovery of life on Saturn’s moon Titan. But that suggestion was shot down as false in a Twitter post from The Atlantic Monthly’s senior editor and science blogger Alexis Madrigal.

Will the secret survive until Thursday? Back in August, NASA let information slip out an hour before the embargo lifted on a report in the journal Science about the discovery of two giant planets in constantly changing orbits. In that instance, NASA made its news release and other information about the discovery publicly available. Going even further back, to 1996, there’s the famous case of the Mars meteorite study that leaked out in advance of publication in Science.

What do you think has been found? Feel free to weigh in with your comment, but please respect any information known to be under embargo.

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John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the “like” button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com’s science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).

URL: http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2010/11/30/5553036-et-found-false-rumors-swirl

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