A senior astrophysicist at Oxford University has revealed that the American "Kepler" project will make an astonishing announcement on planets in other solar systems on the 26th of August. NASA is imposing rigorous NDAs (non disclosure agreements) on people in the know, she said.
Suzanne Agrain, described by the British Science Association as a "planet hunter", works using a competing European satellite and it seems there's little love lost between the boffins in Eurasia and Oceania.
She told an audience at Oxford pub the Cape of Good Hype, sorry Hope that all she had heard was that one of her colleagues was forced to sign a non disclosure agreement (NDA) for the embargo to be lifted on the 26th.
Agrain said that her unit had been working devotedly to unveil a number of planets occupying other solar systems using a different system from the Americans.
She said that scientists "were starting to find planets more like terrestrial planets", such as Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars in other solar systems.
She said: "I use the transit technologies. The planet will only hide a a small part of the star."
Others used different methods, but spectral analysis was a favourite for others looking for planets that might be "hospitable".
A group of scientists, based in Vienna, were hunting down "exotic environments" where life could exist. She explained that life on our own planet had been found in very inhospitable environments, with creatures found in saline, icy and very hot environments.
She lit out against magazine Nature. She said: "Nature is the Sun of the scientific world. It has to be sensational." That drew a round of applause in the crowded room.
She demonstrated how a large gas giant similar to Jupiter might revolve around a star in other parts of our and other galaxies, using a stick with a football at one end and a tennis ball at another.
The demo almost knocked off a bottle of Baileys from the top shelf of the bar (pictured, top left). Agrain is behind the Estrella tap.
Agrain claims the scientists worldwide had found 450 planets so far using the radial velocity method. She did not say why it was so important to establish quite why we should care whether life exists on other planets outside our own little solar system.
Atmospheres were important to life, she believed. But she didn't rule out the possibility that life could exist in other realms than the familiar terrestrial world of oxygen, carbon dioxide, ozone and methane.
This, she said, was not speculation, but was based on the criteria that brought life about on our little planet Earth. The Oxford boffins are searching for a planet that, like ours, shows continual changes with half clouds and half ground.
TechEye will bring more very interesting comments from Agrain tomorrow, before the Kepler stuff leaks everywhere.
* EyeSee. Pictured is Giordano Bruno, who got so much insufficient funding from the Inquisition that they had to bung a wedge in his mouth to shut him up when they were burning him at the stake. He was a proponent of mnemonics. Galileo Galilei had a different experience. And Kepler was an astrologer. Don't mention Newton. Nor Bode's "Law".