I'm getting pretty tired of the phrase "possibility of life." These three words might be the most overused in all of astronomy. In fact, I dare anyone to find a popular-level planetary-science story that mentions the word "water" and doesn't include those three magic words.
I'm not saying the search for life isn't important I'm simply saying that we've reached a saturation point. Between the 30-year-old Viking lander labeled-release experiment and the purportedly fossil-bearing Martian meteorite ALH 84001, the public has had its hopes lifted and crushed more than once. And with so many overanxious press officers and journalists trying to sell newspapers, I think people have heard "wolf" a few times too many.
That's why the latest press release to cross my desk is so refreshing. A team of astronomers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are publishing a new model for the interior of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus. The Cassini orbiter found active geysers spewing from Enceladus's surface, and since then everyone (including yours truly) has been trying to connect the water coming off the surface to the "possibility of life."
The press release does a pretty good job of explaining the science. For those of you who want the CliffsNotes version, the model finds a way to power the geysers and to form the associated geologic surface features without water ever melting. In this "Frigid Faithful" idea, the moon's water ice always stays well below its melting point. And without liquid water, there is no "possibility of life." You'll find the paper in an upcoming issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Do you think we've reached the saturation point? Are you unimpressed when reporters and press officers claim another result might mean life is out there? And are there any other phrases used by science writers that just drive you crazy?