NASA predicts that 100 million worlds in our own Milky Way galaxy may host alien life, and space program scientists estimate that humans will be able to find life within two decades. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Speaking at NASA’s Washington headquarters on Monday, the space agency outlined a plan to search for alien life using current telescope technology, and announced the launch of the Transiting Exoplanet Surveying Satellite in 2017. The NASA administrators and scientists estimate that humans will be able to locate alien life within the next 20 years.
“Just imagine the moment, when we find potential signatures of life. Imagine the moment when the world wakes up and the human race realizes that its long loneliness in time and space may be over — the possibility we’re no longer alone in the universe,” said Matt Mountain, director and Webb telescope scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which plans to launch the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018.
“What we didn’t know five years ago is that perhaps 10 to 20 per cent of stars around us have Earth-size planets in the habitable zone,” added Mountain. “It’s within our grasp to pull off a discovery that will change the world forever.”
Describing their own estimates as “conservative,” the NASA planet hunters calculate that 100 million worlds within the Milky Way galaxy are able to sustain complex alien life forms. The estimate accounts for the 17 billion Earth-sized worlds scientists believe to be orbiting the galaxy’s 100 billion stars.
The NASA panel says that ground-based and space-based technology – including the Hubble Space Telescope, the Kepler Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope – will be able to determine the presence of liquid water, an essential sign of potential alien life.
“I think in the next 20 years we will find out we are not alone in the universe,” said NASA astronomer Kevin Hand, who suggested that alien life may exist on Jupiter’s Europa moon.
“Do we believe there is life beyond Earth?” asked former astronaut and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “I would venture to say that most of my colleagues here today say it is improbable that in the limitless vastness of the universe we humans stand alone.”
The NASA panel said efforts are focused on finding signs of alien life on planets on other stars outside of our solar system.
“Sometime in the near future, people will be able to point to a star and say, ‘that star has a planet like Earth’,” said Sara Seager, professor of planetary science and physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. “Astronomers think it is very likely that every single star in our Milky Way galaxy has at least one planet.”
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