Kepler, the NASA mission manoeuvring to spot the first Earth-like extrasolar planet, is supposed to publicly release data in June for the 156,000 stars at which the orbiting telescope stares. But on Monday a NASA advisory panel recommended that Kepler be allowed to censor 400 “objects of interest” — presumably good planet candidates — until February 2011, giving the mission team more time to firm up discoveries, rule out false positives and publish. If enacted, the new policy would represent a selective editing of data on the basis of its science content, rather than its quality — unprecedented for such NASA missions.
As Kepler astronomers get ever closer to the prize — an Earth-sized planet orbiting in the habitable zone of a parent star — some astronomers are advocating open sharing of data, with its benefit of bringing additional eyes and ideas to bear on ballooning data sets that swamp the resources of any individual team. Others, however, want to maintain more control over the candidate planets, which can remain in limbo for years while awaiting confirmation. This closed approach ensures not only ultimate bragging rights in the scientific literature, but also enables more cautious media announcements in a field that has suffered embarrassing retractions.
“It’s come to a head,” says William Borucki, Kepler’s principal investigator at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.
Read more: Nature.com