NASA scientists have said it yet again. During a panel discussion at the agency’s headquarters in Washington D.C., scientists said that they are closer than ever in terms of science and technology to find signs of extraterrestrial life. Our galaxy has more than 100 billion planets, so how could we humans stand alone in the universe. Researchers agree that there is life beyond Earth. Previously, they have said it would take about two decades to discover the life on other planets.

NASA

NASA’s ambitious roadmap to discover aliens

Attending the panel were many of the NASA’s top scientists including chief scientist Ellen Stofan, associate administrator John Grunsfeld, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory director Dave Gallagher. Sara Seager, a planetary scientist at MIT, was also on the panel. During their discussion, researchers outlined NASA’s roadmap to discover life beyond Earth. It’s an ongoing effort involving many of the current and future telescopes.

Though many scientists are looking for the sign of life in our solar system, especially on Mars, experts on the panel spoke about looking for these signs on planets circling other stars. The launch of Kepler Space Telescope was part of NASA’s roadmap. The agency will launch the Transiting Exoplanet Surveying Satellite (TESS) in 2017 and the James Webb Telescope in 2018. The proposed Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope – Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets (WFIRST-AFTA) is likely to be launched in early next decade.

NASA is making a lot of technological advancements

The James Webb Telescope will travel 930,000 miles from Earth, about four times the distance between our planet and the moon. Its launch in 2018 will help NASA see if any of those billions of planets have the right chemical composition to support life. Specifically, scientists are trying to find gases that could only be produced by living beings. But even with the James Webb Telescope, there are very low chances of success.

But as NASA’s telescopes get bigger and bigger, the chances of finding alien life will improve. New technologies that are currently under development will make it easier to find smaller Earth-size planets. The smaller planets are difficult to spot because they look very dim compared to the star they circle around. So, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists are developing a sunflower-shaped starshade that would be launched alongside a telescope. It will block out the starlight, and help see the smaller planets more clearly.