Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Nature and ESO lift exoplanet embargo early following coverage by Croatian news outlet

with 3 comments

Courtesy Nature

Nature and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) lifted the embargo early today on the finding of an “Earth-mass planet orbiting a star similar to our Sun” after coverage nearly 24 hours before the scheduled embargo time.

From an email to reporters from Ruth Francis, head of the Nature press office:

Subject: NATURE EMBARGO LIFT: Astronomy: Earth-mass planet found ‘next door’

Dear Colleague

Please note the embargo on the Nature paper below is lifted, effective immediately, due to early reporting.

The rest of this week’s batch of papers from Nature remains subject to the usual embargo but you may run your reports on this paper now.

Astronomy: Earth-mass planet found ‘next door’ (N&V)

DOI: 10.1038/nature11572

The discovery of an Earth-mass planet orbiting a neighbouring star similar to our Sun is reported online in Nature. The planet is much closer to its parent star, Alpha Centauri B, than Earth is to the Sun. This places the planet out of the habitable zone ― the distance from the parent star at which water, if present, would be liquid ― which means that it is not an Earth twin.

The detection of a habitable Earth-mass planet orbiting a star similar to our Sun is extremely difficult. Xavier Dumusque and colleagues report high-precision measurements taken from Alpha Centauri B, which is an interesting target for Earth-like planet searches owing to its closeness to our own Solar System, at around 4 light years away. They detect an Earth-mass planet with an orbital period of 3.236 days, roughly 0.04 astronomical units from the star; one astronomical unit is the mean distance between Earth and the Sun.

Although this planet is not an Earth twin, the authors believe that the observational techniques used in this study are capable of reaching the precision needed to search for habitable Earth-like planets.

The embargo was originally scheduled to lift at 1 p.m. Eastern tomorrow (Wednesday), Nature’s usual embargo time, and was apparently broken by a Croatian news site, Znanost, with a story headlined “U orbiti najbliže zvijezde otkriven Zemljin blizanac” and time-stamped 19:25 (presumably Central European Time). The news then made its way to Twitter, although at least one tweet in question has already been deleted.

This afternoon, astronomy blogger Daniel Fischer alerted the ESO and the American Astronomical Society, which had also posted an embargoed release, of the apparent break, and both in turn alerted Nature. Despite the late hour in the UK and Europe, the various parties were able to coordinate and decided on an early lift, which of course was the right thing to do.

There’s also some detail at the appropriately named A Bit More Detail blog, although no one seems to be able to figure out who was responsible for the non-bylined Znanost piece — and therefore whether the writer was on anyone’s embargoed list.

Apparently, someone wanted to make sure Francis had an eventful last month before she departs for Springer and BioMed Central. Her last day at Nature is November 8.

Update, 11:15 Eastern, 10/17/12: After a bit of digging, the ESO has identified the embargo breaker as Nenad Jarić Dauenhauer, a frequent contributor to Znanost (which is apparently part of “tportal”). In an email requesting access to an embargoed press conference, Dauenhauer wrote:

I would like to participate in this interesting conference today. Of course I would respect embargo.

Dauenhauer has apologized to the ESO, but the agency has removed him from their press list.

Update, 6 p.m. Eastern, 10/19/12: The break may have been an unintentional error. Turns out there was an ESO teleconference, in which Dauenhauer took part, the day before the embargo lifted. Put together with the language barrier and the time zone differences, there’s reason to think this was just a mistake. Regardless, the sanctions stay in place, ESO tells me.


Written by Ivan Oransky

October 16, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. I was alerted too the Alpha Centauri Bb news via Facebook, the blogger James Nicoll, who first posted the tweet and then a link to the Croatian-language article.

    Randy McDonald

    October 17, 2012 at 9:12 am

  2. booooo! absolutely positively no reason for hype!


    October 19, 2012 at 6:02 am

  3. What makes you think Dauenhauer couldn’t tell days and timezones apart? He lives in the same timezone as ESO HQ and managed to dial into their telecon (there was only one, on the day of the embargo break and lift) on the right day and time, after all. And there was simply no way to escape the numerous stern admonitions on how long that embargo was to last when you had gotten that far.


    October 24, 2012 at 6:04 pm

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