Wow, this seems rather quick: In a news event yesterday, a NASA chief scientist predicted that the agency will discover signs of life “within a decade.”
“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,” Space.com reports that Ellen Stofan said yesterday during a panel discussion. “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.”
What’s spurring NASA’s optimism? Yesterday, the agency posted an update on its search for water in our solar system and beyond, a key indicator of life. NASA reports that “they are finding water in surprising places,” including its basic elements — hydrogen and oxygen — in “giant molecular clouds between the stars, in disks of material that represent newborn planetary systems, and in the atmospheres of giant planets orbiting other stars.”
NASA scientists are also positive that they’ve found several other worlds that have water beneath surfaces, including ice and vapor in comets, asteroids, dwarf planets, and in the atmospheres and interiors of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. “Perhaps the most surprising water worlds are the five icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn that show strong evidence of oceans beneath their surfaces,” the agency states. “Ganymede, Europa and Callisto at Jupiter, and Enceladus and Titan at Saturn.
No doubt future missions will help fuel our discovery of new “water worlds,” including landing researchers on Mars, which also has evidence of a watery past. The Kepler telescope is also revealing information that will lead to more discoveries. NASA reports that Kepler data shows “the most common planet sizes are worlds just slightly larger than Earth. Astronomers think many of those worlds could be entirely covered by deep oceans.”
“The Milky Way is ‘a soggy place,'” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division at the event, according to Space.com. “We can see water in the interstellar clouds from which planetary systems and stellar systems form. We can see water in the disks of debris that are going to become planetary systems around other stars, and we can even see comets being dissipated in other solar systems as [their] star evaporates them.”
See NASA’s chart of its watery discoveries to date below: