Scientists are getting closer to understanding whether or not there is life outside of Earth thanks to tools like the Webb Space Telescope, which can analyse the atmosphere of other planets in unprecedented detail.
We have questioned whether or not there is life in the universe ever since humanity first emerged.
Scientists are now much closer to finding the answer to that age-old question thanks to powerful telescopes that are studying the atmospheres of other planets.
In the near future, scientists may be able to tell us whether there are little green men, flying saucers, and life on Mars—or whether the evolution of life on Earth is a unique occurrence.
The James Webb Space Telescope, which is observing the cosmos in unprecedented detail to better understand the birth and evolution of planets, stars, and galaxies, is one of the instruments that a leading scientist claims we may be able to use to find any signs of alien life in the next few decades.
They make it possible to analyse starlight that has passed through a planet’s atmosphere to determine its chemical composition. The presence of specific gases can alter this, allowing us to recognise patterns known as biosignatures.
Dr. Emily Mitchell of Cambridge University believes that since life is almost certainly “quite common” in the universe, it is “very likely” that ETs will be discovered.
She said: “As we begin to investigate other planets, biosignatures could reveal whether or not the origin of life on Earth is just a happy accident or part of the fundamental nature of the universe. We’ve only got one biosignature, here on Earth. But if we have, in 10 or 20 years, as my optimistic colleagues suggest, thousands of biosignatures, we can start addressing that [question].
“If we have enough biosignatures we can try to work out how we compare to life on other planets.”
Dr. Mitchell was preparing to speak at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The Origins Federation is being founded by Cambridge in collaboration with Harvard, the University of Chicago, and ETH Zurich.
Dr. Mitchell’s optimism is not shared by everyone, though. Professor Didier Queloz of ETH Zurich said it would be “foolish” to predict when alien life might be discovered, but rock samples retrieved from Mars in the next decade could provide the first evidence.
He said: “Hopefully within my lifetime I will see something significant. Maybe in a couple of years someone with the James Webb telescope will detect an atmosphere that will look Earth-like.
“Or maybe we will find out that most planets have no atmosphere and realise we are bloody lucky on Earth.”