Humanity is on the edge of finding alien life, high-ranking NASA scientists say. NASA’s chief scientist Ellen Stofan said on Tuesday (April7) during a board discussion that focused on the space agency's works to search for livable worlds and alien life. "I think we're going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we're going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years. We know where to look. We know how to look," Stofan added during the discussion, which was a live webcast. "In most cases we have the technology, and we're on a path to implementing it. And so I think we're definitely on the road."
|Recent observations by planetary probes and telescopes on the ground and in space have shown that water is common throughout our solar system and the broader Milky Way galaxy. Credit: NASA|
Former astronaut John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, shared Stofan's optimism, says that signs of life will be discovered relatively soon both in our own solar system and beyond that. Grunsfeld said during Tuesday's event "I think we're one generation away in our solar system, whether it's on an icy moon or on Mars, and one generation [away] on a planet around a nearby star,” Recent discoveries propose that the solar system and larger Milky Way galaxy teem with environments that could support life as we know it, Grunsfeld said.
For instance, oceans of liquid water babble underneath the icy shells of the Jupiter moons Europa and Ganymede, along with that of the Saturn moon Enceladus. Oceans covered much of Mars in the ancient past, and seasonal dark strips observed on the Red Planet's surface today may be produced by salty flowing water. Further, NASA's Curiosity rover has detected carbon holding organic molecules and "fixed" nitrogen, elementary components necessary for Earth-like life, on the Martian surface.
NASA’s next Mars rover, planned to launch in 2020, will hunt for signs of past life and store samples for a possible return to Earth for study. NASA also aims to land astronauts on Mars in the 2030s — a step Stofan looks as a key to the search for Mars life. NASA is also planning out a mission to Europa, which may take-off as early as 2022. The key goal of this $2.1 billion mission will be to shed light on the icy moon's potential habitability, but it possibly will also hunt for signs of alien life: Agency administrators are considering ways to sample and study the clouds of water vapor that actually erupt from Europa's south polar section.