Published : Thursday, November 16, 2017 | 6:44 AM
A JPL scientist paired with a Goddard Space Flight Center researcher star in a new NASA video in which the duo explain why it is likely the hunt for extraterrestrial life will be over within the next 20 years.
Dr. Tiffany Kataria from JPL and Dr. Shawn Domagal-Goldman of Goddard seem confident that with all the recent discoveries and breakthroughs in space exploration, scientists will either find life on another Earth-like planet or determine none exists elsewhere by 2037..
The two scientists are featured in a short video called “How To Find A Living Planet” which was uploaded to You Tube by the Goddard Space Flight Center on November 15.
Kataria said a recent uptick in exoplanet discoveries over the past seven years was so in large to the assistance of NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope which according to her, has found over thousands of exoplanets orbiting other stars.
Kataria added that a study of the Earth has taught scientists that life can possibly exist even in the most harsh and dramatic of environments.
“The most amazing thing that Earth has taught us is that life can really exist in very dramatic environments from really hot environments in the middle of a desert to really cold environments with little light at the very bottom of our ocean,” she said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Goldman believes that with the use of scientific tools such as the low orbit Hubble Space Telescope and the more powerful Kepler Space Telescope, the idea of finding life on another planet outside the solar system is no longer just bar talk.
“When I talk to people about this. About the search for life on all these planets we found around all these other stars, a very common response I get is this line from “Contact” (movie). Well if there isn’t anything out there it would be a horrible waste of space. Which is a wonderful line and especially was a wonderful line 20 years ago but now we’re beyond that,” Goldman said in NASA’s video.
“What I do at NASA is I look for ways to look for life on other planets. Ten years ago, conversations about life in the universe were mainly limited to bar talk and philosophical conversations but that’s all changed.”
But in the vastness of space, where exactly does one begin the search for life outside of Earth?
As it turns out, scientists looking for life in far-off worlds can start by understanding how life operates on Earth, and from there, derive what are the signals to look for in these other planets that orbit other stars, similar to the planets in our solar system.
“We can now apply the scientific method to the question of are we alone. We, based on our understanding of how life operates on earth are starting to derive principles on the signals that life creates, that we then could look for on these planets around other stars,” said Goldman.
A crucial signal that could spell life on another planet is the so-called “Goldilock’s zone” or habitable zone.
“We have a concept for this. it’s called the habitable zone or the Goldilocks zone. And the basic idea is you can’t be too hot because otherwise you’ll lose your oceans they’ll basically boil and steam away. It can’t be too cold because then your oceans will freeze over. You want that big sort of global ocean reservoir at the surface which happens when you’re kind of in the middle and just right,” said Goldman.
Goldman also said that other “Goldilocks” planets such as Earth have been found in the last few years and there are now plans to conduct studies on whether these could harbor life.
“We’re on the Goldilocks planet. And what’s really neat is we found a lot of other so-called Goldilocks planets in the last few years that we could then think about looking for signs of life on in the future.”
According to NASA, discoveries of these so-called “Goldilocks” planets have been coming in coming in consistently since the early 2000s.
According to NASA, for a planet to host life, it should be located in a spot where it could neither be too hot nor too cold. It also must have liquid water and the right atmospheric gases.
NASA said the “Goldilocks zone” in our own solar system is bound byVenus which is too hot and steamy with no oceans at the surface and Mars which is too cold and is too small.
The moon, NASA said, is technically just in the right place as it is in the middle of the “Goldilocks zone” just like Earth and it also gets the right amount of energy from the Sun. However, the moon is too small to hold on to an atmosphere. The same is also true for the gas giants where too much pressure is bearing down on liquid water.
According to Goldman, although it is possible to build-up oxygen and methane in a planetary atmosphere, it is only through life that these gases can be produced rapidly at the same time.
“There are ways to build up oxygen or methane in a planetary atmosphere but the only way you get them both in the same atmosphere at the same time is if you produce them both super rapidly and the only way we know how to do that is through life,” he said.
Goldman is confident that with all the recent discoveries and breakthroughs using state-of-the-art technology in space exploration, scientists could either find life on another Earth-like planet or none at all.
“I firmly believe that one of two things is going to happen in the course of my scientific career. Either we’re gonna find evidence that we’re not alone in the universe or we’ll have so exhaustively searched for it and not found anything. That we will know that the universe is a lonely place and that our our place in it is more special because of that. either way I can’t wait to find out what we uncover in the next 20 years.”