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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. – Business Insider

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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.

Foto: Astronaut Scott Kelly took this photo of Japan from the International Space Station and posted it to Twitter on July 25, 2015.sourceNASA/Scott Kelly

„I can’t believe we are the only living entity in the universe,“ astrophysicist and Nobel Prize winner Dider Queloz said during a talk in October. „There are just way too many planets, way too many stars, and the chemistry is universal. The chemistry that led to life has to happen elsewhere.“

Many astrophysicists and astronomers are convinced that it’s not a matter of if we’ll find life – it’s when.


Mars is the closest place where NASA could find signs of alien life.

Foto: A mosaic image of Mars produced with about 100 images from the Viking orbiter.sourceNASA

It’s unlikely that any life is currently thriving on Mars. But scientists think the planet may have hosted life long ago, when it had an atmosphere as thick as Earth’s, which would have kept the Martian surface warm enough to hold liquid water.


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.

Foto: Jim Green gives opening remarks at a NASA media briefing about a Mars-bound spacecraft, September 17, 2014.sourceNASA/Bill Ingalls

He was referring to the Mars 2020 rover, which will look for alien fossils on the red planet, and a similar rover that the European Space Agency is planning to launch in the spring.

„I think we’re close to finding it, and making some announcements,“ he told The Telegraph. Green later clarified that he didn’t mean NASA had already found life.

„What we have are missions that we’re going to launch that will look for life,“ he told Gizmodo.


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.

Foto: Members of NASA’s Mars 2020 project take a selfie after attaching the remote sensing mast to the rover, June 5, 2019.sourceNASA/JPL-Caltech

The robot is slated to launch in July 2020. If all goes according to plan, both rovers will reach Mars in 2021.


It will drill into Martian rock, collect samples, and stash them for future transport back to Earth.

Foto: An artist concept of the proposed NASA Mars Sample Return mission shows the launch of a Martian sample back toward Earth.sourceNASA/JPL-Caltech

„I’m excited about these missions because they have the opportunity to find life, they really do, and I want them to,“ Green told The Telegraph. „We’ve never drilled that deep down. When environments get extreme, life moves into the rocks.“


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.

Foto: Half of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa as seen via images taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s.sourceNASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

When Galileo Galilei first looked at Jupiter through his homemade telescope in 1610, he spotted four moons circling the planet. Nearly 400 years later, NASA’s Galileo mission found evidence that one of those moons, Europa, conceals a vast ocean of liquid water beneath its icy crust.


Life could arise around deep-sea volcanic vents in this subsurface ocean.

Foto: An illustration of a submersible robot exploring the subsurface ocean of an icy moon.sourceUploaded by ANGELUS on Wikipedia

On Earth, such vents produce intense heat that rips apart molecules and sparks chemical reactions. Microbes convert the resulting hydrogen into sugar. Rather than photosynthesis (which is fueled by light), this process of „chemosynthesis“ uses chemical reactions, so ecosystems can emerge without sunlight.


NASA is planning to take a closer look at that ocean with the Europa Clipper mission, which could launch as early as 2023.

Foto: An artist’s rendering of NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft.sourceNASA/JPL-Caltech

The spacecraft will fly by Europa 45 times, getting as close at 16 miles above the moon’s surface.

„We have gone in nuclear cesspools, places where you’d think nothing could survive, and they are full of life,“ Green told The Telegraph. „The bottom line is where there is water, there is life.“


The Clipper spacecraft is expected to fly through Europa’s water vapor plumes to analyze what might be in the ocean below.

Foto: An illustration shows a plume of subsurface ocean water vapor escaping through a crack in the icy crust of Europa.sourceNASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI

Radar tools will also measure the thickness of the ice and scan for subsurface water.


That investigation could inform work on a future NASA mission to land a spacecraft on Europa’s surface and punch through the ice.

Foto: An artist’s rendering illustrates a conceptual design for a potential future mission to land a robotic probe on the surface of Europa.sourceNASA/JPL-Caltech

The future lander could search for signs of life in the ocean below, digging 4 inches below Europa’s surface to extract samples for analysis in a mini, on-the-go laboratory.


A nuclear-powered helicopter called Dragonfly will take the search for aliens one planet further, to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

Foto: Dragonfly will visit multiple locations on Titan, some hundreds of miles apart.sourceNASA

Getting to the distant, cold moon is not easy – Saturn only gets about 1% of the sunlight that bathes Earth, so a spacecraft can’t rely on solar energy. Instead, Dragonfly will propel itself using the heat of decaying plutonium.

NASA plans to launch the spacecraft in 2026, so it will arrive at Titan in 2034.


Titan is a world with water ice, liquid methane pools, and a thick nitrogen atmosphere. That makes it a contender for alien life.

Foto: A near-infrared, color mosaic from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft shows the sun glinting off of Titan’s north polar seas.sourceNASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. Arizona/Univ. Idaho

Titan somewhat resembles early Earth, since it has carbon-rich organic materials like methane and ethane.

„On Titan you substitute methane for the water, so you will have a different type of life, a new set of chemicals that would compose a new type of DNA,“ Green told The Telegraph. „It really would be weird.“

What’s more, scientists suspect that an ocean of liquid water might lurk 60 miles below the ice.


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.

Foto: An illustration of NASA’s Kepler space telescope.sourceNASA

Thanks to new technology like the Kepler space telescope, scientists have identified over 4,000 exoplanets – the term for planets outside our solar system.

Kepler retired last year after it ran out of fuel, but it passed the planet-hunting torch to the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which launched in April 2018.

TESS will continue scanning the skies through 2022. Astronomers have predicted that the telescope will find dozens of Earth-sized planets and around 500 that are less than twice Earth’s size. Those are the best candidates for alien life.


NASA is also building two new telescopes to expand this search.

Foto: Ball Aerospace optical technician Scott Murray inspects the first gold primary mirror segment, a critical element of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.sourceNASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham

The two telescopes – the James Webb Space Telescope and the Wide Field InfraRed Survey Telescope – will hunt for new planets orbiting distant stars and scan them for signs of life.


The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will look for signs of alien life in the atmospheres of exoplanets.

Foto: The primary mirror of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, consisting of 18 hexagonal mirrors, at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, October 28, 2016.sourceNASA/Chris Gunn

The telescope is fully assembled and now faces a long testing process in Northrop Grumman’s California facilities before its launch date on March 30, 2021.


Finding exoplanets with atmospheres and determining which gases make up those atmospheres is a crucial step in pinpointing places we might find alien life.

Foto: An image taken from the International Space Station shows the layers of Earth’s atmosphere.sourceNASA/Marshall Space Flight Center

That’s because an atmosphere keeps a planet’s surface warm enough to hold liquid water and protects it from its star’s radiation. Life on Earth would not be possible without our atmosphere, which also provides many of the chemicals essential to life, like carbon and nitrogen.

JWST could sense warmth, thereby identifying planets with heat-trapping atmospheres, after just a few hours of watching them orbit their stars.


By measuring the intensity of star light passing through a planet’s atmosphere, JWST could also calculate the composition of that atmosphere.

Foto: An artist’s impression of the planet K2-18b, its host star, and an accompanying planet in the system. Scientists detected water vapor in the atmosphere of K2-18b in September 2019.sourceESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser

JWST’s 21-foot-wide beryllium mirror and new infrared technology will enable it to distinguish between different molecules in the atmospheres of faraway planets.

In certain combinations of these molecules, the telescope could detect signs of life, also known as „biosignatures.“


If an exoplanet’s atmosphere contains both methane and carbon dioxide, for example, those are clues that there could be life.

Foto: An imagined view from the surface of a planet that orbits an ultracool dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth. The system was discovered using the TRAPPIST telescope at the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory.sourceESO/M. Kornmesser

Earth’s atmosphere has a lot of oxygen because life has been producing it for billions of years. Large amounts of oxygen aren’t stable enough to last long on their own, so the gas must be constantly produced in order to be abundant.

A combination of carbon dioxide and methane (like in Earth’s atmosphere) can be even more telling, since carbon dioxide and methane would normally react with each other to produce new compounds. So if they exist separately, something is probably constantly producing them. That something could be a volcano, but as far as we know, only a lifeform could release that much methane without also belching out carbon monoxide.

JWST will look for clues like that.


One of the first places JWST will search for signs of life is the TRAPPIST-1 system, just 39 light-years away.

Foto: An artist’s impression of the TRAPPIST-1 system, showcasing all seven planets in various phases.sourceNASA

TRAPPIST-1 is a tiny M dwarf star (the most common type of star in the universe) that’s just slightly larger than Jupiter, though much more massive. In its orbit are seven planets about the size of Earth.

Three of them – called TRAPPIST-1 e, f, and g – are in the star’s habitable zone, so they could be warm enough for liquid water to exist.

Scientists have gone back and forth about how habitable these TRAPPIST-1 planets could be: Some studies say not at all while others suggest the worlds could have 250 times more water than Earth.


NASA’s Wide Field InfraRed Survey Telescope (WFIRST) could identify about 2,600 new exoplanets.

Foto: Dave Sime works on the WFIRST primary mirror.sourceHarris Corporation / TJT Photography

The agency plans to launch WFIRST into orbit in the mid-2020s. Over its five-year lifetime, the space telescope will measure light from a billion galaxies and survey the inner Milky Way.


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.

Foto: The design for the LUVOIR telescope. If NASA approves it, LUVOIR could block out distant stars‘ light enough to examine the Earth-sized planets circling them.sourceNASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

The proposed LUVOIR telescope, for example, could image 50 Earth-sized exoplanets over four years, studying their atmospheres, seasons, and even surfaces. If chosen for funding and construction, it would launch in the 2030s.

„There’s high confidence that once we build these instruments, we’ll be able to find signatures of life if they’re out there,“ NASA scientist Jessie Christiansen told Business Insider. „I would be surprised if we don’t find something.“

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Teenage British activist stages climate protest on Arctic ice floe – CBC.ca

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Like many of her generation, Mya-Rose Craig feels strongly that adults have failed to take the urgent action needed to tackle global warming and so she has headed to the Arctic Ocean to protest.

Armed with a placard reading “Youth Strike for Climate,” the 18-year-old British activist is staging the most northerly protest in a series of youth strikes worldwide.

The strikes, made famous by Swedish campaigner Greta Thunberg, are resuming after a lull caused by the global coronavirus pandemic to draw public attention back to the threat posed by climate change.

“I’m here to … try and make a statement about how temporary this amazing landscape is and how our leaders have to make a decision now in order to save it,” she told Reuters Television as she stood with her placard on the edge of the Arctic sea ice.

“I absolutely think that my generation has always had to think about climate change … which is why as we’ve got older there’s been this massive wave of just this need for change, this demand for change when we realized the grown-ups aren’t going to solve this, so we have to do it ourselves.”

Environmental activist and campaigner Mya-Rose Craig, 18, holds a cardboard sign reading “youth strike for climate” standing on the ice floe in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, hundreds of miles above the Arctic Circle, September 20, 2020. (Natalie Thomas/Reuters)

Craig, from southwest England, is known as “Birdgirl” online, where her blog chronicling her bird-watching experiences has attracted thousands of followers.

She has traveled hundreds of miles above the Arctic Circle aboard a Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise.

Climate data shows the Arctic is one of the fastest changing ecosystems on the planet, with serious consequences for wildlife from polar bears and seals to plankton and algae, while the melting sea ice contributes to rising sea levels worldwide.

Warming Arctic

Warming in the Arctic shrank the ice covering the polar ocean this year to its second-lowest extent in four decades, scientists said on Monday.

For Craig, getting to the ice floe involved a two-week quarantine in Germany, followed by a three-week voyage to the edge of the sea ice.

Craig said those who dismiss the youth protests as just a rebellious phase by her generation are wrong, and she wants those in power to stop treating climate change as a low-priority issue, raised only to appease “the lefties in the corner.”

“It’s everything now and it has to be treated like that,” she said.

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NASA Says Bus-Size Asteroid Narrowly Missed Earth Thursday – Voice of America

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Scientists at the U.S. space agency NASA say a small asteroid – roughly the size of a bus – passed close to Earth on Thursday, flying just 22,000 kilometers above the surface, within the orbit of geostationary satellites that ring the planet. 

While the proximity to Earth might raise alarm, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California said even if the asteroid had entered the earth’s atmosphere, it almost certainly would have broken up and become a bright meteor.

The asteroid, known as 2020 SW, is about five to ten meters wide and was first discovered on September 18 by the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona. 

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NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) — part of the JPL — then did follow-up observations and confirmed its orbital trajectory, ruling out any chance of impact.

CNEOS director Paul Chodas says an object this size, this close to earth, is not uncommon. He says, “In fact, asteroids of this size impact our atmosphere at an average rate of about once every year or two.”

After passing the Earth, the asteroid will continue its journey around the Sun, not returning to Earth’s vicinity until 2041, when NASA says it will make a much more distant flyby.

The space agency says they believe there are over 100 million small asteroids like 2020 SW, but they are hard to discover unless they get very close to Earth.

In 2005, Congress assigned NASA the goal of finding 90 percent of the near-Earth asteroids that are about 140 meters or larger in size. These larger asteroids pose a much greater threat if they were to impact, and they can be detected much farther away from Earth, because they’re simply much brighter than the small ones. 

Chodas says NASA’s asteroid surveys are getting better all the time, and the agency now expects to find asteroids the size of 2020 SW a few days before they come near Earth.

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Bus-sized asteroid to pass close to the earth: NASA – Asia Times

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As interstellar traffic goes, this is a close one.

According to a report in The Independent, an asteroid the size of a mini-bus is set to fly past Earth in the coming hours.

The object, known as 2020 SW, will fly just 13,000 miles above the Earth’s surface on 24 September, NASA has said.

That is closer than the artificial objects that are in orbit around our planet, and power GPS, televisions and more — a close call, indeed.

The object was only discovered on the 18th of September by a NASA-funded project in Arizona, and further observations were able to track its trajectory and rule out any chance that it might collide with Earth, the report said.

After making its pass, it will then fly off to continue its trip around the solar system. It will not come back anywhere near Earth until 2041, when it will be at an even further distance.

The asteroid is thought to be about five to ten meters wide, roughly the size of a “small school bus,” the space agency said. The size is estimated from the brightness of the object, NASA said.

It is not expected to hit Earth — and if you’re reading this, it probably missed us.

This illustration shows a near-Earth asteroid like asteroid 2020 SW traveling through space. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

However, if it were to hit, it would explode into a fireball as it made its way through the atmosphere, becoming a bright meteor of the kind that is sometimes visible from Earth’s surface, the report said.

Despite repeated suggests that the world is under threat from such asteroids, their visits are fairly common and never pose any great risk to people on Earth.

“There are a large number of tiny asteroids like this one, and several of them approach our planet as close as this several times every year,” said Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

“In fact, asteroids of this size impact our atmosphere at an average rate of about once every year or two.”

Experts have repeatedly suggested that asteroids more generally could pose more of a threat, and space agencies including NASA conduct “planetary defence” work intended to improve the chances of spotting an asteroid and dealing with any that might possible lead to any danger, the report said.

NASA has been tasked with finding 90% of the near-Earth asteroids that are 140 meters or bigger.

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Such asteroids are far more dangerous than those akin to 2020 SW, since their larger size means they are able to make it through the atmosphere and potentially cause problems when they crash into Earth.

Their larger size also makes them easier to spot, however. There are many more smaller ones of sizes similar to 2020 SW, but their smaller size and lower brightness makes them difficult to see until they get close by.

“The detection capabilities of NASA’s asteroid surveys are continually improving, and we should now expect to find asteroids of this size a couple days before they come near our planet,” said Chodas.

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