Astronomers announced on Monday (September 14) the presence of a very rare gas on Venus, hinting at the possibility alien microbes are alive in the planets cloud tops. The groundbreaking discovery came two years after NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover found promising evidence of complex organic material in the Red Planet’s soil. And there are many more places in the solar system, such as Saturn’s moon Enceladus, where scientists speculate life could be lurking.
Because of these landmark discoveries, the hunt for extraterrestrial life is on in full swing.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “Today, we are on the cusp of amazing discoveries that could tell us more about the possibility of life off the Earth.
“In fact, astrobiology, which includes the search for life elsewhere, is one of our key priorities at NASA.
“The Spirit and Opportunity rovers enabled NASA to discover that Mars had a massive ocean, a thick atmosphere, and a magnetosphere that protected it from the radiation of deep space.
“In other words, at one time Mars was potentially habitable!”
Another important NASA mission, the Pheonix Mars lander in 2008, confirmed the presence of pure water ice on the Red Planet.
Just 10 years later, Curiosity found evidence of a seasonal methane cycle – a possible indicator of microbial activity beneath Mars’ surface.
And now, the Perseverance Rover is on its way to Mars with the sole purpose of finding microbes in the planet’s soil.
Today, we are on the cusp of amazing discoveries
Jim Bridenstine, NASA
Mr Bridenstine said: “Samples returned from this trip could conclusively determine whether microbial life lived on Mars.
“Upcoming missions like Dragonfly to Saturn’s moon Titan and the Europa Clipper study Jupiter’s ocean moon Europa will once again assess the possibilities of life on other worlds.
“Data from Saturn’s moon Enceladus and other bodies point to many exciting discoveries yet to be made.”
As far as scientists can tell, we are the only advanced form of life in the solar system and the Milky Way galaxy.
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There is no evidence to suggest advanced civilisations have come before us but there is a chance they could still follow.
But there is strong evidence to suggest planets like Mars and possibly Venus once resembled Earth.
Billions of years ago, the planets had more favourable climates and running water – a key building block of life.
And the search for life is not limited to the solar system as NASA’s catalogue of exoplanets is continuously expanding.
Up until 1992, astronomers were not even certain if other planets orbited other stars.
Mr Bridenstine said: “Our telescopes not only peer into other galaxies and discover exoplanets around other stars, they also assess exoplanet atmospheres to find the elements necessary to host life and even look for atmospheric biosignatures.
“An intriguing discovery recently released by the Royal Astronomical Society about the atmosphere of Venus could also point toward biosignatures.”
Another way in which scientists are searching for alien life is by scanning the skies with radio waves.
Unfortunately, a recent Search for Extraterrestrial Life (SETI) experiment has yielded no results after scanning some 10 million stars.
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