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article imageNASA chief says we'll discover alien life in 10 to 20 years

By Stephen Morgan     Apr 8, 2015 in Science
A top NASA scientist has announced that we are on the verge of finding alien life. The view from the space agency experts is that it is not a question of if, but when we will discover it and that could be quite soon.
NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan was speaking at an annual conference in the capital on Tuesday about the search for habitable worlds and alien life. Stofan predicted that the discovery could be only 10 years away. During the live webcast Stofan stated,
"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." She added,
"We know where to look. We know how to look. 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."
Space.com says she was backed up during the discussion by former astronaut John Grunsfeld, who is an associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, who believes that evidence for alien life will be found quite soon in our own solar system and the universe at large.
"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," he said.
The point was further reinforced by Jeffery Newmark, an interim director of heliophysics at the agency, who added:
"It's definitely not an if, it's a when."
Space.com points out that important discoveries in recent years show that our own solar system and beyond is full of the right ingredients to create and sustain life, as we understand it. And scientists are also speculating that we may uncover other types of alien life, which don't need our conditions to exist, but can arise from poisonous environments deadly for earth-like life forms.
We know that there are oceans of liquid water beneath the surfaces of Jupiter's moons' Europa and Ganymede also on Saturn satellite Enceladus, and that salt water may be present on Mars, together with he basic chemical elements for life there. Indeed, we have established that nearly every star in the universe could have planets like our own harboring life.
However, at this point, we are not talking about intelligent life forms, Stofan said,
"We are not talking about little green men. We are talking about little microbes."
The LA Times reports that the scientists think that the evidence now shows that our earlier predictions were too conservative.
Stofan said,
"We now recognize that habitable zones are not just around stars, they can be around giant planets too," Green said. "We are finding out the solar system is really a soggy place."
Paul Hertz, who is director of astrophysics at NASA, said new telescopes being made, such as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) scheduled for launch in 2018, will aid astronomers in analyzing planets around distant stars for the chemical markers of life and biosignature gases.
"We are not just studying water and habitability in our solar system, but also looking for it in planets around other stars," he said.
But despite the great work already done by the Hubble telescope, Stofan insisted that we still need to get boots on the ground. The MailOnline reported her as saying,
"I'm a field geologist; I go out and break open rocks and look for fossils," Stofan said. "Those are hard to find."
"So I have a bias that it's eventually going to take humans on the surface of Mars — field geologists, astrobiologists, chemists — actually out there looking for that good evidence of life that we can bring back to Earth for all the scientists to argue about."
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