"Do we believe there is life beyond Earth?"asked former astronaut and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at a recent panel discussion at NASA headquarters with with the nation's leading space scientists. "I would venture to say that most of my colleagues here today say it is improbable that in the limitless vastness of the Universe we humans stand alone." "Just imagine the moment, when we find potential signatures of life," added Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute. "Imagine the moment when the world wakes up and the human race realizes that its long loneliness in time and space may be over—the possibility that we're no longer alone in the Universe."
"We have our first chance, our first capability of finding signs of life on another planet,"said Sara Seager, a planetary scientist at MIT, in reference to this telescope. Although the JWST is a critical advancement in the search for life, the panelists explained it is not enough. Even given its unmatched immensity, the probability of finding extraterrestrial life with it is very slim. "To actually find evidence of life will take another generation of telescopes," said Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute.
John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator and former astronaut, explained that the efforts in the search for life are focused on our basic and limited understanding of what sustains life itself —Earth. Astronomers are seeking earth-size planets orbiting in the "goldilocks zone"- the distance from a star that is neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to pool. The quest for this second Earth, referred to as Earth 2.0,is where the search begins. As technology allows for telescopes to become larger along with the spacecrafts to transport them, our map and understanding of the Universe will also expand.
The Daily Galaxy via NASA/Astrobio.net
Image Credit: Ring Nebula M57 irlab.astro.ucla.edu