We're likely to find alien life in the next decade, scientists say. Here's where NASA plans to look - in our solar system and beyond.
- NASA scientists say we're likely to find alien life in the next decade.
- In the next 10 years, NASA plans to launch a rover to collect rock samples on Mars, two spacecraft to visit distant ocean worlds, and new space telescopes to study planets outside our solar system. Any of those missions could find signs of extraterrestrial life.
- Here's how and where NASA plans to track down aliens.
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Many NASA scientists think we're on the verge of finding alien life.
That's because the agency plans to dramatically ramp up its search for signs of extraterrestrial life in the next 10 years - in ancient Martian rock, hidden oceans on moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and the atmospheres of faraway planets orbiting other stars.
"With all of this activity related to the search for life, in so many different areas, we are on the verge of one of the most profound discoveries ever," Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's former administrator, told Congress in 2017.
Ellen Stofan, NASA's former chief scientist, said in 2015 that she believes we'll get "strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade and definitive evidence in the next 10 to 20 years."
"We know where to look, we know how to look, and in most cases we have the technology," she added, according to the LA Times.
Here's how NASA plans to track down alien life - in our solar system and beyond.
We're closer to finding alien life than we've ever been.
Mars is the closest place where NASA could find signs of alien life.
In September, NASA chief scientist Jim Green said two rovers set to launch to Mars next year are likely to help scientists find clues about life on the red planet.
The Mars 2020 rover will search for signs of ancient microbial life and test out technology that could pave the way for humans to walk the Martian surface.
It will drill into Martian rock, collect samples, and stash them for future transport back to Earth.
Beyond Mars, the best place to look for life in our solar system is the hidden ocean on an icy moon of Jupiter called Europa.
Life could arise around deep-sea volcanic vents in this subsurface ocean.
NASA is planning to take a closer look at that ocean with the Europa Clipper mission, which could launch as early as 2023.
The Clipper spacecraft is expected to fly through Europa's water vapor plumes to analyze what might be in the ocean below.
That investigation could inform work on a future NASA mission to land a spacecraft on Europa's surface and punch through the ice.
A nuclear-powered helicopter called Dragonfly will take the search for aliens one planet further, to Saturn's largest moon, Titan.
Titan is a world with water ice, liquid methane pools, and a thick nitrogen atmosphere. That makes it a contender for alien life.
NASA's search extends beyond our solar system as well. A series of telescopes will hunt down signs of life on distant planets that circle other stars.
NASA is also building two new telescopes to expand this search.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will look for signs of alien life in the atmospheres of exoplanets.
Finding exoplanets with atmospheres and determining which gases make up those atmospheres is a crucial step in pinpointing places we might find alien life.
By measuring the intensity of star light passing through a planet's atmosphere, JWST could also calculate the composition of that atmosphere.
If an exoplanet's atmosphere contains both methane and carbon dioxide, for example, those are clues that there could be life.
One of the first places JWST will search for signs of life is the TRAPPIST-1 system, just 39 light-years away.
NASA's Wide Field InfraRed Survey Telescope (WFIRST) could identify about 2,600 new exoplanets.
While all these efforts are underway, other scientists will spend the next decade building a new generation of telescopes to search for life on more distant, smaller planets.
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