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NASA picks top team to hunt for aliens

A fortnight after heads of NASA said they expected to find alien life within the next two decades, they have just beefed up the search by setting up a team of top “alien life hunters.”

The Huffington Post reports that the space agency has brought together experts from universities and research institutes across the US to examine more than 1,000 planets for the possibility of life and their suitability for habitation. The initial budget for the group will be $12 million a year.

Called the Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS), it brings together a variety of highly skilled scientists from a wide cross section of disciplines. The new body will include earth scientists, planetary scientists, heliophysicists and astrophysicists.

Techfrag explains the team’s areas of expertise;

*Earth scientists develop a systems science approach by studying our home planet.

*Planetary scientists apply systems science to a wide variety of worlds within our solar system.

*Heliophysicists add another layer to this systems science approach, looking in detail at how the Sun interacts with orbiting planets.

*Astrophysicists provide data on the exoplanets and host stars for the application of this systems science framework.

NASA is putting an unprecedented level of resources into what it describes as “the pursuit of one of humanity’s deepest questions: Are we alone?”

Anthony Del Genio, a climate modeler at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies told Nature;

“We have to start thinking about these things as more than planetary objects. All of a sudden, this has become a topic not just for astronomers, but for planetary scientists and now climate scientists.”

Nature says that;

“The team’s ultimate goal is to explore the concept of a habitable zone by mixing and matching some of the key factors that determine whether a planet can support life. By feeding these parameters into the exoplanet model, the group will create a database of ‘hypothetical atmospheres’ with spectra that could be visible to astronomers.”

The Mail Online quotes Jeffery Newmark, interim director of heliophysics at NASA, who said,

“We know where to look, we know how to look, and in most cases we have the technology.”

“It’s definitely not an if, it’s a when.”

Moreover, NASA is also hoping for help from you! Amateur astronomers are being encouraged to take part by accessing research data on line from NASA’s Kepler space craft.

Amateur astronomers have contributed a considerable amount to important discoveries in space over the decades. They have discovered more than 100 planets and it would wonderful for one of them to be the first to spot life.

If you want to take part, follow the link to the Planet Hunters website.

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