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NASA scientists say we’ll find alien life in space in the next 20 years

The galaxy pictured here is NGC 4424, located in the constellation of  Virgo. It is not visible with the naked eye but has been captured here with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Although it may not be obvious from this image, NGC 4424 is in fact a spiral galaxy. In this image it is seen more or less edge on, but from above you would be able to see the arms of the galaxy wrapping around its centre to give the characteristic spiral form . In 2012 astronomers observed a supernova in NGC 4424 — a violent explosion marking the end of a star’s life. During a supernova explosion, a single star can often outshine an entire galaxy. However, the supernova in NGC 4424, dubbed SN 2012cg, cannot be seen here as the image was taken ten years prior to the explosion. Along the central region of the galaxy, clouds of dust block the light from distant stars and create dark patches. To the left of NGC 4424 there are two bright objects in the frame. The brightest is another, smaller galaxy known as LEDA 213994 and the object closer to NGC 4424 is an anonymous star in our Milky Way. A version of this image was entered into the Hubble's Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Gilles Chapdelaine.
They’re out there somewhere.
By Zach Wener-Fligner
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Some of NASA’s top minds believe we’re not alone in the universe. And they think we’ll find out for sure soon.

“I believe we are going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade, and definitive evidence in the next 10 to 20 years,” NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan said at a panel April 7 in Washington.

“We know where to look, we know how to look, and in most cases we have the technology,” she said. (Video of these comments is available at the Daily Mail.)

Stofan clarified that the life she expects to encounter is tiny—on the scale of bacteria. “We are not talking about little green men,” she said.

There are a number of reasons to be somewhat expectant about the possibility of extraterrestrial life. One is that we keep finding new evidence that water is replete in our own solar system: subterranean oceans on the moons of Saturn and Jupiter, crater pools on Mercury, signs of a Martian ocean that may have once been over a mile deep.

Another reason is that we keep finding planets outside our solar system that look like Earth—so far scientists have pinpointed over 4,000 that are rocky and mild in climate. Such candidates are mostly identified by the Kepler Space Telescope, a task that will become easier after the new James Webb Space Telescope launches in 2018.

So the trouble isn’t with identifying places where life might exist—there are plenty of those. Rather, it’s a needle-in-the-haystack problem: finding microscopic lifeforms in the great expanse of space.

Still, NASA is optimistic. As Jeffrey Newmark, NASA’s interim director of heliophysics, said at the panel: “It’s definitely not an if, it’s a when.”

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