As NASA hosts scientists to plan follow-up to famed Huygens mission, it announces another big announcement


Astronomers and astrobiologists at NASA called on Thursday for a new “alliance of both practitioners and innovators” in the search for extraterrestrial life, according to the Verge.

While significant progress in the search for extraterrestrial life has been made, the research community “has neglected to form an alliance of practitioners and innovators,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

As Dr. Grunsfeld explained, everyone has been pursuing their own goals — the “clear alcove of science is towards extraterrestrial life,” and not “being sure you’re doing the right thing in an alliance of different fields.”

Over a six-year period beginning in 2002, scientists found the Huygens probe and a roughly 30-mile-wide alien moon from Saturn called Enceladus. The discovery, which was first reported by The New York Times in January 2011, suggests that two of the most distant bodies in the solar system contain liquid water. Two more planets were found in the habitable zone — a region where water may be able to exist. Additionally, the first clues on how to detect organic life emerged.

During the same period, an international team of more than 800 scientists explored another site, the southwest Antarctic Shelf, and had discovered an abundance of plankton and phytoplankton, organisms that might be capable of supporting life.

“This initiative was a direct outgrowth of what we were doing in Antarctica,” Dr. Grunsfeld said. “Huge discoveries of life using a synthetic analogue of observation and a model.”

Dr. Grunsfeld and the other speakers suggested that NASA’s opening of the archives for scientists that had previously worked on the Huygens probe might lead to a number of new discoveries. However, there were no new announcements during the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society, at which the project was unveiled.

For its part, NASA appeared to have more pressing priorities. “Thanks for making this announcement,” it tweeted alongside a video (included in the video at the bottom of this article). “This is the first of what will be many announcements, but it’s not time for celebration.”

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