Great stuff, Fergus! Nothing like a press release to cover one's N-ASA!
You're absolutely right to note that out of 140,000 photos returned to earth, how many have been made available to the public... or for that matter really looked at by NASA itself? It's indeed curious.
What got my attention, however, was that in the press release (the URL) you provided, it says:
...extension will allow Cassini to make 60 more revolutions around the ringed planet and fly by its largest moon, Titan, and four other satellites.
Ah, yes! "four other satellites!" And might one of those be Iapetus? I hope so, even if NASA will likely once again downplay the possibilities. But if they do make the second fly by of Iapetus... considering its singularly distinct orbit requiring a bit more effort... then they may be aware of some things they'd rather not discuss.
On a slightly different note, Space-com
recently reported on a theory from England that described the extreme unlikelihood of their being all that much intelligent life in the universe -- the possibility of intelligent life developing in the vicinity of a given star to be:
...less than 0.01 percent over 4 billion years...
While I suspect this conjecture was religiously inspired -- i.e., intended to make life on earth singularly important and so rare as to eventually be able to tell humans to "go forth, multiply and subdue the universe" -- the fact remains that the theory was notably lacking in one important aspect: What is to prevent the theory from assuming a civilization somewhere in the Milky Way Galaxy that reached our current level of civilization -- which we will assume for the moment to be "intelligent" -- but achieved our level of civilization one or two millions years ago? If so, then what could that civilization have achieved in those million years? Could they, for example, have seeded countless other stars with their genes, such that there are millions upon millions of worlds that have been jump started by an intelligent species far superior to ours in every respect? Considering one possible very viable theory on Iapetus, was this Saturnine moon the seed vessel for us?
From my perspective, any attempt to reduce the number of possible planets with intelligent life in the galaxy (and the universe) is ill-conceived.
However... if we assume that "it's elementary, my dear Watson's" theory that the development of an intelligent species from scratch -- and without intelligent intervention by another species from another planet or star -- is indeed rare, then we may end up in a galaxy of millions upon millions of species which are genetically similar, or at least stem from the same limited number of sources.
In any case, I think we can conclusively dismiss NASA's claim that:
NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder is one of several instruments intended to detect planets around other stars. If Professor Watson's model is correct, even if some of those planets turn out to be Earth-like, they're unlikely to host intelligent life.
At the same time, we can ask, Why would NASA want to push this point now? Is there something of which they're a bit worried?
One possibility is that if NASA were about to encounter or be forced to admit to the discovery of a genuine intelligent ET artifact, NASA might think it preferable to play up the idea ahead of time that the chances of actually meeting (a close encounter of the third kind) any of our neighbors is infinitely remote... or just a 0.01 percent chance in say, the next four billion years!
Ah, what a tangled web NASA weaves when first it practices... well... doing just about anything!