To find extraterrestrial life, be it microbes or intelligent life, scientists need telescopes capable of detecting Earth-like planets in Earth's neighborhood and ways to detect biological signatures of life or signs of alien technology. While some of these tools already exist, astrobiologists asked the U.S. Congress Dec. 4 to invest in the next chapter of the search for life beyond Earth.
"This is the first time in human history we have the technological reach to find life on other planets," Sara Seager, a planetary scientist at MIT, said at a House Committee on Science, Space and Technology hearing today. "People will look back at us as the [generation] who found Earth-like worlds."
Indeed, as we search for life on other planets, we've used the Earth as our standard reference. Practically speaking, it's the only model we've got — and it appears to be a pretty damned good one; Earth has been teeming with life for billions of years and, quite importantly, it's even spawned a radio-capable, space-faring civilization.
That being said, what makes us so sure it's the best model for habitability? Could other planets or moons be even more suitable for life? A pair of astrobiologists say yes. To find a habitable and ultimately an inhabited world, they argue we should adopt a biocentric approach rather than a geo- or anthropocentric one.
Dusty emission in the Tadpole nebula, IC 410, lies about 12,000 light-years away in the northern constellation Auriga. The cloud of glowing gas is over 100 light-years across, sculpted by stellar winds and radiation from embedded open star cluster NGC 1893. Formed in the interstellar cloud a mere 4 million years ago, bright cluster stars are seen all around the star-forming nebula.