For the past few days, rumors have been flying around the Internet that the White House was being briefed by NASA scientists about a “provocative” discovery that could indicate the potential for life on Mars. But today, a source close to the planet says it isn’t so. Details after the jump.
Aviation Week reported the briefing on Friday:
The White House has been alerted by NASA about plans to make an announcement soon on major new Phoenix lander discoveries concerning the "potential for life" on Mars, scientists tell Aviation Week & Space Technology.
Sources say the new data do not indicate the discovery of existing or past life on Mars. Rather the data relate to habitability—the "potential" for Mars to support life—at the Phoenix arctic landing site, sources say.”
It also reported that these discoveries go beyond the recent confirmations of water on the planet:
“The other data not discussed openly yet are far more "provocative," Phoenix officials say.
In fact, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory science team for the MECA wet-chemistry instrument that made the findings was kept out of a July 31 news conference at the University of Arizona Phoenix control center. The goal was to prevent them from being asked any questions that could reveal information before NASA is ready to make an announcement, sources say.
The Bush Administration's Presidential Science Advisor's office, however, has been briefed on the new information that NASA hopes to release as early as mid August. It is possible an announcement would not come until September, to allow for additional analysis. That will depend upon the latest results still being analyzed from the spacecraft's organic oven and soil chemistry laboratories.
But the Twittering voice of the Phoenix, NASA news services manager Veronica McGregor, told tweeters they shouldn’t get too excited:
Heard about the recent news reports implying I may have found Martian life. Those reports are incorrect.
And what about that hush-hush meeting?
Reports claiming there was a White House briefing are also untrue and incorrect.
And the Mars Phoenix wouldn’t lie to us, would she?