Playing Wheel of Fortune With NASA PAO

Keith's note: I just love the media advisories NASA issues such as this one for tomorrow's "NASA to Reveal New Discoveries in News Conference on Oceans Beyond Earth" press event. They are always filled with names, affiliations, specific instruments, buzz words, tantalizing hints, etc. This makes it so much easier for me to use Google, preprint servers, and simple journalistic tools like email and phone calls to figure out what NASA is going to announce. Who needs embargoed papers? NASA loves to make the media play connect the dots. And if you follow these missions, then its even easier to play.

This advisory includes the sentence "NASA will discuss new results about ocean worlds in our solar system from the agency's Cassini spacecraft and the Hubble Space Telescope" and lists participants including "Hunter Waite, Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer team lead at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Chris Glein, Cassini INMS team associate at SwRI".

Duh "ocean worlds", "Cassini" - they are talking about Enceladus. Hmm ... 2 people who work with the "Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer". Let's do some Googling. Ah "Enceladus Flyby 21 (E-21): Deepest Dive Through the Plume" which says "1. Confirm presence of molecular hydrogen (H2). This measurement will be accomplished using Cassini's sensor that sniffs the gases in the plume (called INMS). Confirmation of H2 would be an independent line of evidence that hydrothermal activity is taking place in the Enceladus ocean, on the seafloor. Amount of H2 Cassini measures would reveal how much hydrothermal activity is going on in the ocean. This has implications for the amount of energy available for creating a habitable environment in the ocean". This instrument's data is posted by NASA here: Cassini (INMS) level 1A high and the low sensitivity counter (Data archive), PDS/PPI, NASA

And "William Sparks" from STSCI is listed. That's easy: he looks at plumes erupting from Europa. He just completed 14891 - Confirming the ice plumes of Europa "We propose a campaign to image Europa in transit against Jupiter close to the April 2017 opposition, in order to maximize spatial resolution, sensitivity, and time sampling. These measurements have the potential to profoundly influence a topic of fundamental scientific importance and of great strategic interest to NASA. If the ice plumes of Europa arise from the deep ocean, we have gained access to probably the most astrobiologically interesting location in the Solar System." He has also completed 14112 - Monitoring the ice plumes of Europa, 13829 - The ice plumes of Europa, and 13620 - Probing the atmosphere of a transiting ocean world: are there ice fountains on Europa?

So its all about ice world/ocean world plumes folks. Bingo.

Its like NASA daring the news media to figure out a crossword puzzle that NASA has already filled in half way - by doing the hard part first. A few other searches and a couple of emails/phone calls and it was obvious to me what the Cassini part of the news will be. Once again I figured it out (or at least part of it), checked with sources, and wrote an article. As has been the case before I got a phone call from the journal (this time it was Science) accusing me of breaking an embargo. AAAS refuses to give me access to Eurekalert and I have no other access to the article they seem to be referring to. If I find out what is going to be announced though simple sleuthing, well, that's fair game. I honor embargoes when I agree to receive material under embargo. But when NASA dangles half the notes and then plays "Name That Tune" well, I'll play.

I complained to the person who called from Science about this behavior on NASA's part. They are not happy with how NASA does these media advisories. I do not like to be accused of breaking embargoes on NASA-funded research and this is the second time in a month or so that this has happened (see "Nearby Star Has 7 Earth-Sized Worlds" where I did a similar sort of sleuthing out of a story).

I have asked NASA before if it is agency policy to have media embargoes. I have been told more than once that the agency does not issue news under embargo. Yet NASA news is indeed being issued under embargo - and not to everyone. And when someone like me who is not on the special list of recipients for embargoed NASA news figures the news out, the journal who won't allow me access to embargoed releases gets mad at me. Of course, NASA PAO also complains about all the clean up work they have to do when other news outlets and tabloids look at the words NASA uses in their advisories and then jump to conclusions about all manner of imaginary results that might be announced.

NASA needs to figure this out. Either NASA has an agency policy that endorses embargoes or they do not. And when people read the deliberately provocative words that NASA itself puts out, NASA needs to stop whining about being misunderstood.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on April 12, 2017 3:23 PM.

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