Astronomers and space enthusiasts have long been baffled by the question -- whether life exists beyond Earth. Now, if a group of astronomers are to be believed, it is only a matter of 20 years, and enough funding, before that question is answered.
Over the past 50 years, multiple attempts have been made to look for signs of alien life beyond Earth and several pieces of evidence have been found suggesting that the components and conditions necessary for life are common and “perhaps ubiquitous” in the Milky Way galaxy, astronomers from the California-based Search of Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, Institute said, during a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on Wednesday.
“At least a half-dozen other worlds (besides Earth) that might have life are in our solar system,” Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at SETI Institute, was quoted by Discovery News as saying. “The chances of finding it, I think, are good, and if that happens, it’ll happen in the next 20 years, depending on the financing.”
According to Shostak, searching for life elsewhere in the solar system or beyond can be done in three ways. While most efforts and funding to find alien life have so far focused on Mars and moons in the solar system, a second approach looks for signs of oxygen or methane -- gases that are mostly tied to life on Earth -- in the atmosphere of distant planets, Discovery News reported. Thirdly, astronomers hunt for technologically advanced aliens who might be sending radio or other signals out into space.
SETI programs, according to the institute, use the world’s largest radio and optical telescopes to search for evidence of advanced civilizations and their technology on distant planets.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Dan Werthimer of the University of California, Berkeley, described current projects to find intelligent life on other planets and how NASA’s Kepler space observatory is contributing to this effort. According to him, the Kepler mission has shown that the Milky Way Galaxy alone has a trillion planets, three times the number of stars.
“Billions of these planets are Earth sized and in the ‘habitable’ or so called ‘Goldilocks’ zone – not too distant from their host star (too cold), and not too close to their star (too hot),” Werthimer said in a statement. “And there are billions of other galaxies outside our Milky Way galaxy – plenty of places where life could emerge and evolve.”