It really could happen in our lifetimes! If you've been excited about the idea of meeting beings from another planet since your first "Star Trek" episode, this is a story you have got to read. The top NASA scientist is predicting we'll discover alien life in the next 10 to 20 years.
It's estimated that there are at least 200 billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy, and scientists are confident that it's a matter of when, not if, we will encounter alien life forms. It's been recently discovered that Ganymede, one of Jupiter's moons, has a "saltwater, sub-surface ocean, likely sandwiched between two layers of ice" that's been observed using the Hubble Space Telescope.
Even Mars, the red planet, has been studied enough to discover that 50% of the Martian northern hemisphere once had oceans a mile deep. Jim Green, NASA's director of planetary science, noted that the same study found that water had been on the planet's surface for at least 1.2 billion years.
'I believe we are going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade and definitive evidence in the next 10 to 20 years,' Ellen Stofan, chief scientist for NASA, said. 'We know where to look, we know how to look, and in most cases we have the technology.'
But don't be expecting little green men, top scientists say. Even though we may be only decades away from encountering life on other planets, the kind of life scientists are looking for could fit into a petri dish. "We are talking about little microbes," said Ellen Stofan, chief scientist of NASA.
John Grunsfeld, the associate administrator for NASA, says that he's excited about "seeing what form life beyond Earth may take."
"Once we get beyond Mars, which formed from the same stuff as Earth, the likelihood that life is similar to what we find on this planet is very low," he said. "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."
In addition to Mars and Ganymede, there's the possibility that another of Jupiter's moons, Europa, and Saturn's satellite, Enceladus, have "an ocean of liquid water beneath their surface in contact with mineral-rich rock." According to scientists, these are the three main ingredients needed to sustain life as we know it.
The next Mars rover mission, scheduled to launch in 2020, will be searching for signs of past life on Mars and possibly even bring sample back to Earth for study. NASA is also planning to land astronauts on Mars in the 2030s for more exploration.
What do you think? Will we find life on other planets? If you have anything to add to the conversation, let me know in the comments below!