Leading scientist says NASA close to knowing whether alien life exists

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Leading Scientist Says NASA Close To Knowing Whether Alien Life Exists
In a bold prediction, one of the world's leading scientists claims NASA is close to discovering whether alien life truly exists.

Dr. John Grunsfeld, the physicist and former astronaut who heads NASA's Science Mission Directorate was among a panel of scientists who spoke to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on Tuesday.

Grunsfeld remarked, "Are we alone? Many, many people on planet Earth want to know ... We are on the cusp of being able to answer that question."

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NASA's Kepler Space Telescope
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Leading scientist says NASA close to knowing whether alien life exists
NASA's Kepler spacecraft. (Photo via NASA)
This artist's concept compares Earth (left) to the new planet, called Kepler-452b, which is about 60 percent larger in diameter. (Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)
This artist's concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of star that is similar to our sun. The habitable zone is a region around a star where temperatures are right for water -- an essential ingredient for life as we know it -- to pool on the surface. Scientists do not know if Kepler-452b can support life or not. What is known about the planet is that it is about 60 percent larger than Earth, placing it in a class of planets dubbed "super-Earths." While its mass and composition are not yet determined, previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a better than even chance of being rocky. Kepler-452b orbits its star every 385 days. The planet's star is about 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. It is a G2-type star like our sun, with nearly the same temperature and mass. This star is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun. As stars age, they grow in size and give out more energy, warming up their planets over time. (Photo via NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)
Highlighted are new planet candidates from the seventh Kepler planet candidate catalog that are less than twice the size of Earth and orbit in the stars' habitable zone—the range of distances from a star where liquid water could exist on the surface of an orbiting planet. The dark green area represents an optimistic estimate for the habitable zone, while the light green area represents a more conservative estimate for the habitable zone. The candidates are plotted as a function of the star's surface temperate on the vertical axis and by the amount of energy the planet candidate receives by its host star. Open yellow circles show new planet candidates in the seventh catalog. Open blue circles show candidates from previous catalogs. Filled-in circles represent candidates that have been confirmed as planets due to follow-up observations. Note that the new candidates tend to be around stars more similar to the sun, representing progress in finding planets that are similar to the Earth in size and temperature that orbit sun-like stars. (Photo via NASA Ames/W. Stenzel)
The sweep of NASA Kepler mission’s search for small, habitable planets in the last six years. The first planet smaller than Earth, Kepler-20e, was discovered in December 2011 orbiting a Sun-like star slightly cooler and smaller than our sun every six days. But it is scorching hot and unable to maintain an atmosphere or a liquid water ocean. Kepler-22b was announced in the same month, as the first planet in the habitable zone of a sun-like star, but is more than twice the size of Earth and therefore unlikely to have a solid surface. Kepler-186f was discovered in April 2014 and is the first Earth-size planet found in the habitable zone of a small, cool M dwarf about half the size and mass of our sun. Kepler-452b is the first near-Earth-Size planet in the habitable zone of a star very similar to the sun. (Photo via NASA Ames/W. Stenzel)
This size and scale of the Kepler-452 system compared alongside the Kepler-186 system and the solar system. Kepler-186 is a miniature solar system that would fit entirely inside the orbit of Mercury. The habitable zone of Kepler-186 is very small compared to that of Kepler-452 or the sun because it is a much smaller, cooler star. The size and extent of the habitable zone of Kepler-452 is nearly the same as that of the sun, but is slightly bigger because Kepler-452 is somewhat older, bigger and brighter. The size of the orbit of Kepler-452b is nearly the same as that of the Earth at 1.05 AU. Kepler-452b orbits its star once every 385 days. (Photo via NASA/JPL-CalTech/R. Hurt)
Spectators watch the launch of NASA's planet-hunting spacecraft, Kepler Friday, March 6, 2009, from Cocoa Beach, Fla. Kepler, named after the German 17th century astrophysicist, set off on its unprecedented mission at 10:49 p.m., thundering into a clear sky embellished by a waxing moon. (AP Photo/Florida Today, Malcolm Denemark)
IN SPACE - UNSPECIFIED: In this handout illustration made available on December 5, 2011 by NASA, the Kepler-22b, a planet known to comfortably circle in the habitable zone of a sun-like star is digitally illustrated. For the first time NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed a planet to orbit in a star's habitable zone; the region around a star, where liquid water, a requirement for life on Earth, could persist. The planet is 2.4 times the size of Earth, making it the smallest yet found to orbit in the middle of the habit. Clouds could exist in this earth's atmosphere, as the artist's interpretive illustration depicts. (Photo Illustration by Ames/JPL-Caltech/NASA via Getty Images)
IN SPACE - UNSPECIFIED: In this handout illustration made available on December 5, 2011 by NASA, a diagram compares our own solar system to Kepler-22, a star system containing the first 'habitable zone' planet discovered by NASA's Kepler mission. The habitable zone is the sweet spot around a star where temperatures are right for water to exist in its liquid form. Liquid water is essential for life on Earth. The diagram displays an artist's rendering of the planet comfortably orbiting within the habitable zone, similar to where Earth circles the sun. Kepler-22b has a yearly orbit of 289 days. The planet is the smallest known to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a sun-like star and is about 2.4 times the size of Earth. (Photo Illustration by Ames/JPL-Caltech/NASA via Getty Images)
IN SPACE, UNSPECIFIED: In this handout digital illustration released on September 15, 2011 by NASA, the newly-discovered gaseous planet Kepler-16b orbits it's two stars. NASA's Kepler Mission discoverd the world orbiting two Stars, the larger a K dwarf and the smaller a red dwarf. (Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt via Getty Images)
IN SPACE, UNSPECIFIED: In this handout digital illustration released on September 15, 2011 by NASA, the newly-discovered gaseous planet Kepler-16b orbits it's two stars. NASA's Kepler Mission discoverd the world orbiting two Stars, the larger a K dwarf and the smaller a red dwarf. (Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle via Getty Images)
The graphic tells NASA's Kepler spacecraft's story by the numbers from the moment it began hunting for planets outside our solar system on May 12, 2009. From the trove of data collected, we have learned that planets are common, that most sun-like stars have at least one planet and that nature makes planets with unimaginable diversity. (Photo via NASA Ames/W Stenzel)
(Photo via NASA Ames/W. Stenzel)
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Grunsfeld and his fellow panelists urged legislators to continue current levels of funding for space exploration by describing recent developments in the field.

One such accomplishment is the New Horizons space probe, which recently completed the first-ever flyby of Pluto—the former planet on the outer edge of the solar system.

So far, only a small amount of data has made it back to Earth. Full transmission will take around 16 months.

Dr. Alan Stern, the New Horizons mission's principal investigator noted, "We found evidence of nitrogen glaciers...[and]...A mountain range as tall as the Rockies...This is quite a ride, scientifically."

In addition to Pluto's wealth of information, the search for alien life has been buoyed by NASA's recent discovery of a potentially-Earth-like planet 1400 light years away.

The planet, Kepler-452b, resides in a "habitable zone" where temperatures would theoretically allow for liquid water, and with it, life.

Also see these pictures of Earth from space:
65 PHOTOS
Pics of earth from space (Earth Day)
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Leading scientist says NASA close to knowing whether alien life exists
A large lightning strike on Earth lights up solar panels on the International Space Station in this NASA picture taken by astronaut Kjell Lindgren released September 2, 2015. REUTERS/NASA/Kjell Lindgren/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
A photo taken by Expedition 46 flight engineer Tim Peake of the European Space Agency (ESA) aboard the International Space Station shows Italy, the Alps, and the Mediterranean on January, 25, 2016. REUTERS/NASA/Tim Peake/Handout ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
A photo taken by European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Tim Peake aboard the International Space Station shows an Aurora over northern Canada, taken from a point just north of Vancouver, January 20, 2016. The Canadian Rockies, Banff and Jasper national parks are visible in the foreground. The Bright lights of Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary (left of center) are also visible. REUTERS/NASA/Tim Peake/Handout ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, home to Super Bowl 50, as seen from the International Space Station, February 7, 2016. Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly, who took the photo, wrote, "Got to see the #SuperBowl in person after all! But at 17,500MPH, it didn't last long." REUTERS/NASA/Scott Kelly/Handout ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
The robotic arm in Japan's Kibo laboratory successfully deploys two combined satellites from Texas universities from the International Space Station, January 29, 2016. The pair of satellites -- AggieSat4 built by Texas A&M University students, and BEVO-2 built by University of Texas students -- together form the Low Earth Orbiting Navigation Experiment for Spacecraft Testing Autonomous Rendezvous and Docking (LONESTAR) investigation. REUTERS/NASA/Tim Peake/Handout ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

December 8, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "Day 256. #MilkyWay births 7 new stars a year, so 2 star births to go. #GoodNight from @space_station! #YearInSpace"

December 16, 2015

Scott Kelly (‏@StationCDRKelly): "#EarthArt Get over your mountains with rock and grit. #YearInSpace"

December 3, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "Day 251. Greetings to my friends in #Macedonia. #GoodNight from @space_station! @kevinbleyer"

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "#Auckland #NewZealand, Sorry we don't see you much during your day but you look great down there. #YearInSpace"

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who recently past the halfway mark of his one-year mission on the International Space Station, photographed the Nile River during a nighttime flyover. Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) wrote, "Day 179. The #Nile at night is a beautiful sight for these sore eyes. Good night from @space_station! #YearInSpace." (Photo via NASA)

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly captured images and video from the International Space Station during an early morning flyover of the United States. Sharing with his social media followers, Kelly wrote, "Clear skies over much of the USA today. #GoodMorning from @Space_Station! #YearInSpace." (Photo via NASA)

An astronaut aboard the International Space Station took this photograph of small island cays in the Bahamas and the prominent tidal channels cutting between them. For astronauts, this is one of the most recognizable points on the planet.

The string of cays — stretching 14.24 kilometers (8.9 miles) in this image — extends west from Great Exuma Island (just outside the image to the right). Exuma is known for being remote from the bigger islands of The Bahamas, and it is rich with privately owned cays and with real pirate history (including Captain Kidd).

(Photo via NASA, Caption via M. Justin Wilkinson, Texas State University, Jacobs Contract at NASA-JSC)

Kjell Lindgren (@astro_kjell): "#London. Beautiful in the daylight, even prettier at night."

MANICOUAGAN CRATER, CANADA

(photo: ESA)

Venice Lagoon, Italy

Photo: NASA Goddard Photo/Flickr

Ocean Sand, Bahamas

Photo: NASA Goddard Photo/Flickr

Pico de Orizaba, Mexico (NASA, International Space Station, 02/10/11)

Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

Eruption Plume, Kliuchevskoi Volcano, Russia (NASA, International Space Station, 11/16/13)

Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

Kavir Desert, Central Iran (NASA, International Space Station, 02/14/14)

Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

Lagoons and Reefs of New Caledonia

Photo: NASA Goddard Photo/Flickr

Typhoon Neoguri (NASA, International Space Station, 07/07/14)

Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

Sunset Over Earth (NASA, International Space Station Science, 11/23/09)

Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

Brasilia, Brazil at Night (NASA, International Space Station, 01/08/11)

Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

Banks Peninsula, New Zealand (NASA, International Space Station, 05/31/14)

Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

Ice Floes, Kamchatka Coast, Russia (NASA, International Space Station, 03/15/12)

Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

Coastlines of the Southern Baltic Sea (NASA, International Space Station, 06/15/14)

Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

Port Aransas and the Intracoastal Waterway, Texas (NASA, International Space Station, 03/22/13)

Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

Typhoon Halong (NASA, International Space Station, 08/05/14)

Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

Bowknot Bend, Utah (NASA, International Space Station, 01/22/14)

Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

Lightning From Space, and Red Sprites at Night (NASA, International Space Station, 12/13/13)

Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

Acklins Island, Bahamas (NASA, International Space Station, 11/16/10)

Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

Cape Cod, Massachusetts (NASA, International Space Station Science, 03/14/10)

Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

Ounianga Lakes in the Sahara Desert (NASA, International Space Station Science, 11/14/09)

Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

Mt. Ruapehu, New Zealand

Aurora Near Australia (NASA, International Space Station, 07/15/14)

Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

Nile river viewed from space

(Photo via Getty)

Atlantic Coast (NASA, International Space Station, 09/20/13)

(Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr)

Archive: Fjorded Coastline, Greenland (Archive: NASA, Space Shuttle, 08/12/97)

(Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr)

Japan, Narita, View of earth. (Photo by: JTB/UIG via Getty Images) (Photo by: JTB Photo/UIG via Getty Images)
The Yarlung Zangpo Grand Canyon (or Tsangpo Gorge) in Tibet is the deepest canyon in the world, and longer than the Grand Canyon. February 25, 2004. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
The city of Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, and lies along the Firth of Forth. April 29, 2006. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
The place in the United States where four states come together: the four corners area in the western United States. The states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico share a common point. June 11, 2001. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
Salzkammergut, Austria. Large parts of the region were listed as a World Heritage Site in 1997. June 22, 2003. Satellite image. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 18: A view of the Earth during a solar eclipse. The shadow of the Moon can be seen darkening part of Earth. This shadow moves across the Earth at nearly 2,000 kilometers per hour. Only observers near the center of the dark circle see a total solar eclipse - others see a partial eclipse where only part of the Sun appears blocked by the Moon. This spectacular picture of the Aug. 11, 1999 solar eclipse was one of the last ever taken from the Mir space station. Mir was decommissioned after more than ten years of use. *Image Credit*: Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (Photo by NASA/SSPL/Getty Images)
IN SPACE - AUGUST 31: In this satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Tropical Storm Ernesto (R) is shown at 9:45 am EDT is shown east of northern Florida while Hurricane John heads towards Mexico's west coast August 31, 2006. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)
AUGUST 11: This satellite handout from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows Tropical Storm Charley bearing down on Jamaica the morning of August 11, 2004. The storm is expected to cross through Jamaica and Cuba before making its way into the Gulf of Mexico later in the week. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)
Rub Al Khali, a sand desert South East of Saudi Arabia ; sand dunes are sculptured and moved by the winds, in blue the argillakeeous subsoil, and in white the salt crusts left out by the oueds in the rainy season., Rub Al Khali Desert, Saudi Arabia, True Colour Satellite Image (Photo by Planet Observer/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
True colour satellite image of Oceania with cloud coverage. This image in Lambert Conformal Conic projection was compiled from data acquired by LANDSAT 5 & 7 satellites., Oceania With Cloud Coverage, True Colour Satellite Image (Photo by Planet Observer/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
True colour satellite image of Africa with major rivers. This image in Lambert Azimuthal Equal Area projection was compiled from data acquired by LANDSAT 5 & 7 satellites., Africa With Major Rivers, True Colour Satellite Image (Photo by Planet Observer/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
True colour satellite image of Europe. This image in Lambert Conformal Conic projection was compiled from data acquired by LANDSAT 5 & 7 satellites., Europe, True Colour Satellite Image (Photo by Planet Observer/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
True colour satellite image of Asia with major rivers. This image in Lambert Azimuthal Equal Area projection was compiled from data acquired by LANDSAT 5 & 7 satellites., Asia With Major Rivers, True Colour Satellite Image (Photo by Planet Observer/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
True colour satellite image of North America with major rivers. This image in Lambert Conformal Conic projection was compiled from data acquired by LANDSAT 5 & 7 satellites., North America With Major Rivers, True Colour Satellite Image (Photo by Planet Observer/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
True colour satellite image of South America. This image in Lambert Azimuthal Equal Area projection was compiled from data acquired by LANDSAT 5 & 7 satellites., South America, True Colour Satellite Image (Photo by Planet Observer/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED : Clouds and sunglint as seen during the STS-96 mission from the Space Shuttle Discovery. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, UNITED STATES: A view of the Puna de Atacama area of Argentina 24 Janaury from US space shuttle Endeavour at an altitude of 160 nautical miles as part of EarthKAM involving 51 middle schools from three nations. Endeavour is docked with the Russian space station Mir for five days of joint science operations and transfer of supplies to the Russian space station. AFP PHOTO/NASA (Photo credit should read AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

Cloud-Free View of Iceland

Photo: NASA Goddard Photo/Flickr

Operation IceBridge Turns Five

Photo: NASA Goddard Photo/Flickr

The Turbulent Bering Sea

Photo: NASA Goddard Photo/Flickr

Argentina

Photo: NASA Goddard Photo/Flickr

Sarychev Peak Eruption, Russia

Photo: NASA Goddard Photo/Flickr

Moon over northeast Greenland

Photo: NASA Goddard Photo/Flickr

Grey Glacier, Chile (NASA, International Space Station Science, 06/04/07)

Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

Alaska Mountains

Photo: NASA Goddard Photo/Flickr

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