Durgapur News Service, 12 April 2015: For the first time NASA scientists have publically announced that we are not alone in the universe and revealed that they are excitingly close to discovering some form of extraterrestrial life. Speaking at a public panel on Tuesday in Washington D.C., NASA scientists said: “it’s definitely not an if, it’s a when.”
Ellen Stofan, NASA’s Chief Scientist, said: “I believe we are going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade and definitive evidence in the next 10 to 20 years.” He added by saying: “our search tools have become so sophisticated that space researchers believe we will have gathered convincing data for the presence of alien life, most likely microbial, by 2025.”
The public discussion was sparked by the recent discoveries of water hiding within many of our planetary neighbors. Recent discoveries suggest that potentially habitable worlds are much more common than once believed. Almost every star is now thought to host planets, and one study even suggested that those within our galaxy possess an average of two planets within the habitable range, or “Goldilocks zone,” which is the area where liquid water can exist.
NASA researchers say these revelations overturn the earlier idea that, to find life, we need to look for planets within stars’ “habitable zones.” That theory suggests that in order for a space rock to harbor life, it needs to be at a certain “perfect” distance from a warm body (like Earth is from our sun). That way, the temperature is just right so that water can exist on the planet in liquid form.
But on Jupiter’s moon Europa, liquid water exists even though the frigid moon is more than 400 million miles away from our star. It’s because the gravitational pull from Jupiter jerks the satellite around, causing enough friction and energy to heat up the liquid beneath the surface. Thus, the moon’s water can remain as a liquid when it’s so far from a light source.
“We now recognize that habitable zones are not just around stars, they can be around giant planets too,” said NASA researchers.
Recently, a study conjectured that Saturn’s moon Enceladus is home to sandy hot springs. And just a few weeks ago, NASA announced the discovery of a saltwater ocean on Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon.
And let’s not forget about Mars; this now parched and barren planet was once a watery world complete with enduring lakes, oceans and flowing rivers, some of which could have lingered long enough for life to have had a chance to evolve. Not only that, but scientists also recently found evidence of useful nitrogen compounds, which are a crucial source of this element for life on Earth.
While our present set of powerful observatories are obviously capable of churning out exciting data on the subject, things are only set to get more exciting as technology develops. A mission to Europa is already on the cards, for example, which NASA hopes to launch by 2022. And before that, the agency hopes to send up their James Webb Space Telescope, which will probe the atmospheres of nearby “super-Earths,” or Exoplanets with masses higher than our own planet, with the hope of identifying gases that could have been created by life forms. Certainly, we have got a lot to look forward to in the coming years.