NASA seems adamant to finding life outside our solar system. After SETI, it has added a new team of scientists to work on searching for signs of life. The team had their first meeting with NASA, held this week. The team has been given the title “Nexus for Exoplanet System Science” (NExSS). The team has been given the target to synthesize the approach in search for extraterrestrial life, as per Jim Green of planetary science at NASA.
The team is composed of scientists from 20 different fields, like Earth Sciences, Astrophysics, Helio-Physics, etc. Each of the members would work in their own fields to define what conditions are suitable for life to develop and how to identify these conditions. This was the first time that all the members were able to present their findings collectively.
Recently, NASA officials have been quite vocal about the agency’s aim to find extraterrestrial life as one of the top priorities. NASA’s chief scientist, Ellen Stofan said, “the researchers will discover the first signs of extraterrestrial life in the next 10 years, and definitive evidence of life in 10 to 20 years”.
The interim director of Helio-Physics, Jeffery Newmark stated, “It’s definitely not an if, it’s a when”.
NASA’s Kepler mission was launched with the intent of finding exoplanets and currently, it has cataloged more than a 1000 candidates orbiting distant stars.
However, it is still theorized that there are millions more waiting to be confirmed. Unfortunately, identifying other planets with their own suns is not enough; NASA needs to know about their habitability.
Neal Turner, at JPL stated, ” The big picture is that we don’t know what exoplanets will look like. A lot of them are very strange, somewhere between the size of Earth and Neptune. We have nothing like that in the solar system.”
He further explained that the findings of NExSS would determine the type of telescopes NASA needs. Additionally, the group would also indicate what molecules are to be search for in a planet’s atmosphere.