Is there life beyond Earth? The answer is almost certainly yes, and scientists will probably find proof within most of our lifetimes, according to a top official at NASA.
"I'm gonna say I think we're going to have strong indications of life beyond earth within a decade and I think we're going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years," Chief Scientist Dr. Ellen Stofan said during a panel event Tuesday.
The claim may seem ... (pardon the pun) ... out of this world, but given the scientific advances expected in the coming years and decades, it may not be so far off.
NASA's Kepler Mission has already discovered more than 1,000 exoplanets -- those are planets outside of our solar system -- and keeps turning up more potentially habitable ones. Other research suggests billions of exoplanets in our Milky Way galaxy alone could have liquid water.
Most scientists think liquid water is one of the most important factors for supporting life as we know it, and further reason that if billions of planets may have liquid water then there are many opportunities for life to have developed somewhere in our galaxy.
Scientists have even begun looking for signs of life in our celestial backyard on Jupiter's moon Europa, which is thought to house an enormous sub-surface ocean. That ocean probably doesn't have little green men swimming around or other "intelligent" creatures, but it could have very basic forms of life.
NASA is planning a mission to Europa, which would launch sometime after 2020 if funded. Financial backing is a key part of that equation, and capturing the public's imagination would help the agency secure it. That's why it's not surprising that Stofan ended Tuesday's discussion with an invitation.
"Don't just listen to us, don't just read about it. Come help us discover whether there's life in the solar system and beyond," she said.
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