Alien life could be discovered within the next two decades – but, these lifeforms will be far from intelligent beings, one expert claims.
According to astronomer Chris Impey, scientists are likely on the verge of detecting microbes on a planet beyond our own, with nearby candidates such as Jupiter’s moon Europa thought to contain some of the conditions to support life.
While scientists have been searching the skies for decades, the expert says we may now detect microbial life in the next 10 to 15 years, especially as forthcoming instruments such as the James Webb Telescope promise to improve our chances.
‘I put my money on detecting microbial life in 10 to 15 years, but not at all detecting intelligent life,’ Impey, professor and deputy head of the department of astronomy at the University of Arizona, said in a recent interview with Futurism.
The researcher says our best chance at finding alien life could be in our own solar system.
While life on Mars – if it exists there at all – would likely be deep below the surface, making it difficult to find, the planet may still hold traces of ancient lifeforms in easier to spot places, Impey told Futurism.
Impey also points to Europa, Jupiter’s sixth-largest moon, which scientists have recently turned their sights on.
The moon is thought have many features similar to Earth, including an iron core and an ocean of salty water.
But, its ocean covers the entire surface, and is completely frozen over due to its distance from the sun.
NASA and ESA recently announced plans to launch a mission to better study the mysterious water world, and according to Impey, efforts such as this could soon give us a ‘better idea if that ocean could have life in it,’ Futurism reports.
Looking further into space and beyond our solar system, the expert says an Earth-like exoplanet could be promising as well.
According to Impey, studies on the atmospheres of these distant worlds will be critical in assessing their potential habitability.
With extensive improvements in technology in recent years, the expert suggests our chances of spotting life have vastly increased as well.
‘Every new SETI experiment done now is about as good as the sum of all previous SETI experiments put together,’ Impey told Futurism.
Earlier this year, scientists revealed that Saturn’s moon Enceladus has nearly all of the ingredients to support microbial life.
In addition, the recent discovery of the Trappist-1 planetary system has reignited hopes for finding alien life not far from our solar system.
The system just 39 light-years away contains seven Earth-sized planets, and researchers say three could be habitable.
And, a study published in April suggests that if life does exist on any of the mysterious planets in the Trappist-1 system, it might not be alone for long.
The researchers say debris from an asteroid or comet impact could transport bacteria and single-celled organisms through the ‘tightly packed system’ to seed life on an adjacent world.
While the journey would have to be relatively short, the researchers say the material launched by such a collision could protect the lifeforms through irradiation and re-entry.
‘Frequent material exchange between adjacent planets in the tightly packed Trappist-1 system appears likely,’ said Sebastian Krijt, a postdoctoral scholar and lead author, in a statement earlier this year.
‘If any of those materials contained life, it’s possible they could inoculate another planet with life.’