(Wired.com) Rumors are flying this weekend that Mars Phoenix has made a major discovery relating to the potential for life on Mars.
Wired.com reached Sam Kounaves, the mission's wet chemistry lab lead, by cell phone this morning. He quickly directed us to speak with NASA's PR
representatives, but not before he said, simply, "Rumors are rumors."
They stem from an article in Aviation Week and subsequent pickup on Slashdot and elsewhere indicating that the White House had been briefed on the potential for life on the planet.
"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," wrote Craig Covault, citing anonymous sources on the Phoenix Lander's wet chemistry lab team.
Covault's article showed some restraint, though, and made sure to note that "sources say the new data do not indicate the discovery of existing or past life on Mars."
The subtleties, however, were quickly lost in the blogosphere, where excitement began to build that simple extraterrestrial life, or something suggesting its presence, had been found on Mars.
Late last night, @MarsPhoenix (aka Veronica McGregor, a NASA employee) responded to the story, via the mission's Twitter account.
"Heard about the recent news reports implying I may have found Martian life. Those reports are incorrect," she Tweeted. "Reports claiming there was a White House briefing are also untrue and incorrect."
Covault implies that a test in which Earth water was mixed with Martian soil is the cause of the excitement. Mars Phoenix scientists have repeatedly stated that the lander doesn't have the tools to directly detect life.
Over at LiveScience, David Leonard hints, without sourcing or attribution, that a paper on the work is going to come out in the journal Science.
"The reason that all this seems so hush-hush is due to a future paper and press release that appears likely to pop out of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and its Science magazine," Leonard writes. "Whatever the poop is from the scoop thatâ€™s been studied by Phoenix, that information is purportedly going through peer-review."
We're still trying to get to the bottom of this story and will keep you updated with any new developments.