Alien life is the holy grail of the astronomical sciences, but unlike the holy grail, which is considered a myth, and therefore, unobtainable, the detection of alien life may soon be an actuality, or so says one astronomer. He predicts that the search for extraterrestrial life will bear fruit within the next two decades, but he thinks that those hoping for humanity’s first contact with intelligent life forms will be sorely disappointed.
Professor Chris Impey, the deputy head of the department of astronomy at the University of Arizona, believes that the search for alien life will soon yield results, as he recently told Futurism. Within the next ten to fifteen years, the various probes that will be sent to the planets and moons of the Solar System will procure the evidence that Earth is not the only planet in the universe where living organisms exist.
“I put my money on detecting microbial life in 10 to 15 years, but not at all detecting intelligent life.”
Prof. Impey believes that alien life will be found in our Solar System as well, although he is now of the opinion that life on Mars may only exist below the surface, if at all. He is more convinced that evidence will be found that proves life once was extant on the planet.
“If we actually get Mars rocks back here to Earth from a place that we think could have been habitable in the past,” he told Futurism, “then we might find evidence of prior life.”
He holds out that life may be found in the ocean under the icy crust of Europa one day, but he thinks that the probes headed toward the Jovian moon will find little proof of life. However, the data gathered may indicate whether or not the Europan ocean is capable of sustaining life.
The Solar System appears to play host to any number of environments that could potentially sustain microbial life. Recent research has prompted scientists to posit that microbial life just might exist in the heated atmosphere of Venus, as well as the cold, extremely thin atmosphere of Mars.
Even with a focus on local territory, Impey notes that the search for alien life also must be directed farther outward, especially considering technological advancements and better telescopes and not to mention the numerous methods being devised to look for signs of life on the growing number of exoplanets being discovered. But since there are hundreds of billions of exoplanets out there, Impey suggests that the search parameters should be narrowed for effectiveness.
Prof. Impey first suggests giving search priorities to exoplanets that have been found to resemble Earth, since we already know that Earth-like conditions would be favorable for the emergence of life. He then suggests searching for biosignatures in each of the exoplanets’ atmospheres, something that can be accomplished by the James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled for launch in the next few years. Such equipment could detect whether or not the Earth-like exoplanets’ atmospheres contain methane or oxygen, two tell-tale biomarkers that could hint at a possibility of alien life.
“This biomarker experiment… could find evidence of microbial life indirectly,” Impey explains.
The search for alien life (or the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, for that matter), even given the disappointing results of the ongoing programs, appears more intense than ever. Technological advances, better search methodologies, and new cosmological discoveries constantly feed the hope that aliens will soon be detected. For example, just last week, it was announced that a chemical substance necessary in the formation of living organisms was discovered in the vicinity of every star in a faraway star cluster, leading astronomers to believe that the building blocks of life — and, by extension, potential alien life — are far more prevalent in the universe than previously thought.
[Featured Image by Ana Aguirre Perez/Shutterstock]