NASA announces press conference over new exoplanet findings

By Nick Whigham

NASA has a major exoplanet announcement to make later this week. Photo / 123rf
NASA has a major exoplanet announcement to make later this week. Photo / 123rf

NASA says it has some big news to tell the world.

The leading space agency has announced a press conference to take place on Thursday morning AEST to present new findings on planets that orbit stars other than our sun, known as exoplanets.

NASA has been stingy with the details so far but the press conference is being touted as the biggest news related to exoplanets since the announcement last year of an earth-like planet orbiting our closest star, dubbed Proxima Centauri.

The information to be revealed by NASA will be simultaneously published in the journal Nature on Thursday and is embargoed until the start of the press conference.

However US tech publication CNET claims to have seen the findings and said; "Let's just say it could very easily provide us with new settings for many future works of science fiction."

Take from that what you will, but judging by the experts that will be in attendance for the conference, it's probably going to be noteworthy.

Those giving the public briefing include Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Sean Carey, the manager of NASA's Spitzer Science Center at Caltech and Sara Seager, a professor of planetary science and physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The foreshadowing of the event has led to intense speculation online.

The press release issued by NASA made it to the front page of Reddit where at the time of writing it has attracted more than 1650 comments and sparked a lengthy debate about what NASA might reveal.

On the basis of the scientists scheduled to conduct the press conference, one Reddit user speculated that the announcement could have something to do with the collection of atmospheric data from a potentially promising exoplanet.

"Here is my guess. They found exoplanets (maybe even earth like) and were able to get atmospheric data (maybe oxygen) from its observation," they wrote.

Others wondered if it might have something to do with Proxima Centauri.

Thanks to NASA's Kepler Telescope which has been busily scanning 150,000 stars for signs of orbiting bodies in recent years, we've discovered that on average every star has at least one planet if not many more circling it.

In May last year, the space agency revealed it had found a further 1284 new planets, more than doubling the number of known exoplanets in the universe. And the most important part: nine of them could theoretically be habitable.

The public will be able to ask questions during the NASA briefing later this week via Twitter by using the hashtag #askNASA and scientists will conduct an AMA (ask me anything) on Reddit following the press conference.

The event will air live on NASA Television and the agency's website.

- news.com.au

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