Human beings have long wondered if we are alone in the universe. According to NASA’s chief scientist, we will have an answer soon. Ellen Stofan made the bold prediction during a panel discussion on April 7. Stofan stated that currently, astronomers know where to look for life and how to look for life. She believes the discovery will come in the next 10 to 20 years.
Scientists are confident that finding water is a key to discovering life on other planets. With rapid technological advances, astronomers are accumulating mounting evidence suggesting some of the solar system’s moons and planets may contain vast amounts of water. Two moons circling Jupiter, Europa and Ganymede, are known to have oceans of water beneath their icy surfaces. As well, there are now estimated to be billions of planets in our galaxy that have the potential to hold water.
However, talk of finding alien life should be taken in context. Most scientists are skeptical that any intelligent forms of life will be found in the foreseeable future. Instead, they are concentrating their efforts on finding microbes. Microbes are tiny single cell organisms. They are considered among the oldest forms of life on earth. Finding microbes on other planets would confirm them as common building blocks of life.
There are various missions planned in the near future. NASA is scheduled to launch a more advanced Mars rover in 2020. The goal will be to search for past life and possibly collect samples to send back to earth. A probe to Europa may be launched as early as 2022. It will be analyzing the moon’s potential to be habitable, and for signs of life.
Another exciting development is the scheduled launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018. It will be checking nearby earth-like planets looking for signs of life by examining the composition of gases in the atmosphere.
It was not so long ago that the chances of finding extraterrestrial beings was considered remote. It was left to our imaginations and the realm of science fiction. All of these projected missions will increase the possibility of important new discoveries in the coming decades.