Countdown to NASA's big Mars reveal: Will it live up to the hype?

A press conference today will announce a 'major science finding' on Mars, but the secret may already be out looking at the speaker list.

NASA/JPL/Uni­versity of Arizona/Reuters
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter photo shows frost on Mars in this April 11 image by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera released on July 30. NASA is set to reveal a 'major discovery' about the Red Planet during an 11:30 a.m. press conference on Monday.

This morning, NASA will detail a “major science finding” from the agency’s ongoing exploration of Mars, but the secret may already be out.

The agency first announced the press conference on Thursday, and has been promoting the press conference ever since, fueling widespread speculation as to what the news could be.

While the NASA hasn’t revealed what the press conference will reveal, it has provided a list of speakers – and those speakers alone give some clues as to what the announcement will reveal. The Christian Science Monitor wrote Sunday that, based on the sparse evidence, the agency could be related to the discovery of water on the Red Planet. 

The discovery of water may then lead to the discovery of life on the planet.

"One of the [speakers] is Lujendra Ojha, a Ph.D. candidate in planetary science at the Georgia Institute of Technology who co-authored a study published in Science in 2011 claiming the first evidence of what could be liquid briny water on Mars," Ms. Warner wrote.

Mr. Ojha, who was an undergraduate student at the University of Arizona when the study was published, said at the time that there would need to be "years of research put into this to even prove that this is definitely a proof of water."

"From that," he added, "we can move on: OK if this is water, what are the chances that life could be in these kinds of surroundings?"

Another speaker at Monday’s press conference will be Alfred McEwen, principal investigator for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). The HiRISE camera, which lives on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, features a telescopic lens that has been studying the Martian surface in minute detail. The MRO has been orbiting Mars since 2006, and the HiRISE camera has been helping researchers study the mineralogy of Mars, Space.com reported.

The three other speakers at the press conference will be Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA headquarters; Mary Beth Wilhelm, another Ph.D. candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology (where Ojha is studying) who is also working at NASA’s Ames Research Center; and Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program.

NASA has five active missions on Mars: the two rovers Opportunity and Curiosity, which landed in 2004 and 2012, respectively, and three orbiters, Mars Odyssey, the MRO, and MAVEN (which stands for Mars Environment and Volatile Evolution).

The agency, which has been celebrating 50 years of exploring the Red Planet this year, has set the goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s.

"Mars is a rich destination for scientific discovery," the agency says on its website. "Its formation and evolution are comparable to Earth, helping us learn more about our own planet’s history and future."

Monday’s press conference will be broadcast live at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time on NASA Television and the agency’s website. A question-and-answer session will also take place during the event, and members of the public can submit questions through Twitter with the hashtag #AskNASA.

The space agency has developed a reputation for hyping major announcements with titillating press releases coming out days in advance. Only two months ago the agency gave the public three days' warning before it announced "new discoveries by its planet-hunting mission, the Kepler Space Telescope."

The agency revealed on July 23 that the telescope had discovered Earth’s closest lookalike to date, the "cousin" planet Kepler 452b.

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