NASA: In 20 years we'll prove that we aren't alone


Cambridge, Mass. (CBS CONNECTICUT) – 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.

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.”

Thanks to Jack Carter for the find!

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Soup and Beer site profile image  

8/7/14 8:48 PM by Soup and Beer

To know with any certainty that there is no other life anywhere in our galaxy, we would have to be able to thoroughly search every rocky world planet through 400 billion stars. We would likely have to be a Type IV civilization to even attempt such a feat.

Juijitsuboxer site profile image  

8/7/14 8:33 PM by Juijitsuboxer

What else do you guys believe that science has not proven?

Jack Carter site profile image  

8/7/14 8:18 PM by Jack Carter

  And the skeptics would have a point (regarding Europa)   It's possible that if any life exists within this solar system outside of Earth, it originanted from Mars. What broke off from Mars and landed on Earth to start life could have done so on Europa as well. Jupiter is not that far from Mars and has an impressive gravitational pull. So whatever came to Earth via Mars could have also landed on Europa as well.   Who knows? Even though it's speculation, the skeptics would have a point and it would be a point that should be considered until more evidence is found thta can rule it out.   Once we find life anywhere in our galaxy outside of our own solar system, it would be ridiculous to argue that life is unique to our galaxy because once we get to the scale of the universe that have literally countless galaxies similar to our own, all bets are off. However, if we find no other life in this galaxy or even any trace that it existed in the past on any planet or moon, then we're in deep trouble.

Jack Carter site profile image  

8/7/14 8:07 PM by Jack Carter

    Garv, how is that any different than what NASA is claiming on proving that life exists within 20 years? There is no evidence to suggest this. Even when they give reasons for why they believe what they do, it's only "Because we found a lot of exoplanets".   We barely know parts of their atmosphereic contents (on mostly gas giants) and so far, they're mostly absent of water vapor - something we find a lot of in the gas giants in our own solar sytsem.   What's wrong with saying "we hope to find life in near by star systems, but we're not sure enough to make any predictions. But even if we don't find life nearby, we will continue looking further and further until we do"? There really is no reason, other than hope, to say that we will prove we are not alone within 20 years

Soup and Beer site profile image  

8/7/14 7:59 PM by Soup and Beer

Obviously it was pure folly saying there was a 100% certainty of life on another planet. That was an absurd statement to make.But saying life is "rare" is a purely subjective interpretation. What is rare? One planet in a hundred star systems? One in a thousand? One in a million? Having life pop up in one in a million solar systems would be definitely mean it's exceedingly rare. But that would still mean over 4000 planets contain life in this galaxy alone.But even if life is found under the icecaps of Europa, then sceptics could still argue that we have not found life outside our solar system and that we may be unique. If we find life scattered among the Milky Way, then one could still argue that life might be unique to this galaxy and that there is no evidence it exists anywhere else in the universe.

Ridgeback site profile image  

8/7/14 7:47 PM by Ridgeback

This is just a silly simplification.  First of all, religion and the scientific method don't remotely fall into the same conceptual categories.  It was actually the religious ideas of Jerusalem and Athens that led to the modern scientific method being developed in the first place and that was directly tied to changes in theology, starting perhaps most notably in Duns Scotus.  As an aside, a change in interepretation of scriptures is a form of changing one's mind.  You contradicted yourself.  Furthermore, you are pretending that scientists never resisted ideas even after new evidence came to the fore, but the notorious article "Down With the Big Bang" by atheist and former editor of Nature magazine John Maddex is proof that in fact this happens all the time.  The idea that all scientists immediately drop everything the moment new evidence shows their hypotheses or theories may be wrong is simply what laymen believe about scientists, not the reality on the ground.  A man doesn't just drop his whole career, reputation, and funding (and world view) simply because contrary evidence has appeared.  There is no human enterprise under the sun that is not plagued by jealousy, stubborness, stupidity, dishonesty, etc. etc.  Your faith in the method as a cure all for the foibles of the people carrying out the method is unwarranted.  You shouldn't make an idol of anything humans touch.

Jack Carter site profile image  

8/7/14 7:28 PM by Jack Carter

Remember Steven Vogt, the guy I just spoke about who said that he was certain life existed on that non-existent planet 6 years ago?   Well, even he recently admits that our solar system is unique based on more recent and accurate observations. Even those that want to believe that life is abundant "just because" are forced to admit the uniqueness of our solar system:   "We are now beginning to understand that Nature seems to overwhelmingly prefer systems that have multiple planets with orbits of less than one hundred days," he said in a press release published by Britain's University of Hertfordshire. "This is quite unlike our own solar system where there is nothing with an orbit inside that of Mercury. So our solar system is, in some sense, a bit of a freak and not the most typical kind of system that Nature cooks up."    

Jack Carter site profile image  

8/7/14 7:02 PM by Jack Carter   November 27, 2012 "No Jupiter, No Advanced Life? " --Evolution May be Impossible in Star Systems Without a Giant Planet   Two NASA astronomers recently suggested that the size and location of an asteroid belt, shaped by the evolution of the sun's planet-forming disk and by the gravitational influence of a nearby giant Jupiter-like planet, may determine whether complex life will evolve on an Earth-like planet.  Rebecca Martin, a NASA Sagan Fellow from the University of Colorado in Boulder, and astronomer Mario Livioof the Space Telescope Science Institute have concluded that Solar systems with life-bearing planets may be rare if they are dependent on the presence of asteroid belts of just the right mass. Asteroids may have delivered water and organic compounds to the early Earth. According to the theory of punctuated equilibrium, occasional asteroid impacts might accelerate the rate of biological evolution by disrupting a planet's environment to the point where species must try new adaptation strategies. The astronomers based their conclusion on an analysis of theoretical models and archival observations, including infrared data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. "Our study shows that only a tiny fraction of planetary systems observed to date seem to have giant planets in the right location to produce an asteroid belt of the appropriate size, offering the potential for life on a nearby rocky planet," said Martin, the study's lead author. "Our study suggests that our solar system may be rather special."

Jack Carter site profile image  

8/7/14 7:00 PM by Jack Carter

  Recent as in within the past 20 years when we've actually been able to detect signatures of life outside of Earth and have been actually discovering exoplanets.     And you're wrong about what we thought 50 years ago.  It was already accurately speculated that the moon contained water well over 50 years ago. Almost 100 years ago it was common among scientists to believe that although Mars was a dry planet, it still had water on it. Actually measuring water content on the moon or in the atmosphere of Mars only validated those century-old scietnific theories.   For hundreds of years it was ACCURATELY theorized that there were extrasolar planets outside of our star system based on heliocentrism, during the time of Copernicus. Since then, there was no real doubt that other planets existed, just a lack of verification. Even the main article of this thread uses only one piece of evidence to support the belief that life will be found in 20 years: That we have discovered extrasolar planets, something we knew was a scientific probablity for 400 years now.   You are trying to create an argument by creating a significant distinction between widely accepted scientific probablity and proof. There was NO DOUBT within the scientific community that extrasolar planets existed prior to 1992 when the first extrasolar planet was confirmed.   Life around hydrothermal vents was discovered almost 40 years ago, yet we've known that microorganisms could exist via chemosynthesis (without sunlight) for over a century. "In 1890, Sergei Nikolaevich Vinogradskii (or Winogradsky) proposed a novel life process called chemosynthesis. His discovery suggested that some microbes could live solely on inorganic matter and emerged during his physiological research in the 1880s in Strassburg and Zurich on sulfur, iron, and nitrogen bacteria."   You want recent? Let's talk about the past 10 years on Mars. Everything we have found on Mars has led us to believe that life is more difficult to come by than we have previously thought. The most Earth-like planet known to man is Mars. No extrasolar planet discovered yet even comes close to how earth-like Mars is. Yet not only is there not even one hint of life existing on Mars NOW, there is not even one single piece of evidence that life EVER EXISTED on thta planet. No mountains of limestone, no fossils of any kind, not even a minscule trace of methane, nothing at all. NOTHING.   And all of that 100% NOTHING is a RECENT discovery.   So let us hope that we find microbial life on Europa. We most likely will not, because the only model of life we have to go on is from a planet called Earth which is in an UNCOMMON galaxy (regular spiral), within an unlikely habitable zone of that galaxy, orbiting an uncommon type of star within it's narrow goldilocks zone, with an uncommon type of moon to stabilize it's orbit and a massive gas giant just at the right distance to collect countless extinction level asteroids before they reach it.

gregbrady site profile image  

8/7/14 5:14 PM by gregbrady

most of the really strong arguments for life existing outside of our solar system came from the discovery of the sheer volume of stars out there by Hubble in the early part of the 20th century. That is mostly because of the sheer numbers involved. way more than 50 years agothe extremophiles in the ocean trenches don't necessarily show that life can start in extreme environments, they could instead show that once life starts on a planet it is ubiquitous. we dont know which one of those is the case at this point.i think the planet discovery thing is pretty weak evidence as that was pretty much a given based on our understanding of solar systemsliquid water is decent evidence but as Jack has mentioned there is mountains of evidence pointing to our very rare circumstances here, from SETI's search of the sky to our sun lacking a binary partner to molybendium existing on Mars and not earth