What we know about NASA’s major alien oceans announcement

11 Apr 2017

Abstract image of an alien world. Image: Jaswe/Shutterstock

NASA is set to announce some exciting developments regarding the discovery of possible oceans beyond Earth.

Every time NASA hints at a new scientific discovery, people tend to get rather excited at the idea of alien life being confirmed.

While NASA is unlikely to reveal that flying saucers are real or that the ‘face on Mars’ was alien in origin, these announcements often highlight serious advancements in our understanding of the universe.

Taking last February as an example, NASA and a Belgian astrophysicist announced the discovery of seven Earth-like planets orbiting a star, referred to as TRAPPIST-1.

As one of the largest single hauls of this nature, TRAPPIST-1 was significant because the data suggested that six of its planets could harbour liquid water.

What do we know about this announcement?

For starters, details revealed by NASA suggest something major involving new discoveries of oceans beyond Earth.

In recent years, planets and moons we once thought of as dry, barren wastelands have actually been found to have traces of liquid water.

In 2015, NASA announced the discovery of liquid water on our nearest neighbour Mars and since then, clues have pointed to the existence of vast quantities of water on its surface as recently as thousands of years ago.

In its pre-release for the upcoming announcement, NASA said: “These new discoveries will help inform future ocean world exploration – including NASA’s upcoming Europa Clipper mission planned for launch in the 2020s – and the broader search for life beyond Earth.”

Who is Hunter Waite?

The reference to the Europa Clipper mission strongly suggests the possibility of oceans being confirmed for the first time within our own solar system.

The purpose of the mission is to follow up on discoveries made by the Galileo probe launched in 1989, which hinted at the existence of a subsurface ocean underneath Jupiter’s moon.

One of the researchers attending the announcement will be Hunter Waite, the leader of the Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer team at the Southwest Research Institute in Texas.

Waite has spent years analysing one of the solar system’s other moons, and one that has also been considered a strong candidate for harbouring oceans: Saturn’s Enceladus.

In 2008, Waite was a principal investigator on a project that found organic material erupting from the planet, which contained hot water vapour.

No confirmation or further details will be revealed until 13 April, when the announcement is set to take place at 2pm EST, or 7pm Irish time.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic