A spate of clues over the last two decades has left scientists on the brink of finding alien lifeforms, according to one expert. The discovery of water on Mars was one huge breakthrough that makes it likely some form of life once existed there – even it were microbial. Another is that chemical elements are abundant throughout the universe.
The building blocks of life such as carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are found littered throughout the cosmos, and amino acids “just like those that make up every protein in our bodies, have been found in the tails of comets”, according to Cathal O’Connor, researcher and centre manager at the University of Melbourne.
One of the ways in which astronomers are hopeful they will find alien life in the near future is down to the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
The replacement for the Hubble Telescope is set to be launched in 2021 and will be able to see just 0.3 billion years after the Big Bang to when visible light itself was beginning to form.
As well as seeing further into space it will accurately measure the content of water, carbon dioxide and other components in the atmosphere of an exoplanet – a planet outside of our solar system – as well as tell scientists more about the size and distance these planets are from their host stars.
By measuring the chemical make-up of a planet, scientists will be able to see if it can host life.
Mr O’Connor wrote for the Conversation: “The James Webb Space Telescope, planned for a 2021 launch, will be able to take these measurements for some of the Earth-like worlds already discovered.
“Just a few years later will come space-based telescopes that will take pictures of these planets directly.
“Following a string of remarkable discoveries over the past two decades, the idea of alien life is not as far-fetched as it used to seem.
“Discovery now seems inevitable and possibly imminent.
“Even if we never find other life in our Solar System, we might still detect it on any one of thousands of known exoplanets.
“The ancient question ‘Are we alone?’ has graduated from being a philosophical musing to a testable hypothesis. We should be prepared for an answer.”