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ET – extra-terrestrial life – will be discovered in the next 20 years.
Astronomers are standing on a “great threshold” of space expoloration.
US planetary scientist Dr Sara Seager says life beyond earth seems inevitable given the immensity of the universe.
In the coming decades chemical fingerprints of life written in the atmospheres of planets orbiting nearby stars could be found by the next generation of space telescopes.
Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Seager, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said: “We can say with certainty that, for the first time in human history, we are finally on the verge of being able to search for signs of life beyond our solar system around the nearest hundreds of stars.”
Astronomers now know that statistically every star in our galaxy, the Milky Way, should have at least one planet, and small rocky worlds like the Earth are common.
“Our own galaxy has 100bn stars and our universe has upwards of 100bn galaxies – making the chance for life elsewhere seem inevitable based on sheer probability,” said Seager.
In the next decade or two, a handful of “potentially habitable” exoplanets will have been found with atmospheres that can be studied in detail by sophisticated space telescopes.
The first of these “next generation” telescopes will be the American space agency Nasa’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) due to be launched in 2018.
It will be able to analyse the atmospheres of dozens of “super-Earths” – rocky planets somewhat larger than Earth – including several that could harbour life.
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