The search for life beyond Earth is an exciting and challenging field of scientific inquiry that has captured the imagination of many experts in the field. Thanks to advances in technology and astronomy, it seems we are on the verge of discovering signs of extraterrestrial life.
One such expert is Professor Sasha Hinkley, an associate professor of astrophysics at the University of Exeter. Professor Hinkley predicts that we will detect alien life on distant planets within the next few years.
Together with a team of researchers, Professor Hinkley is using the James Webb space telescope, the most advanced observatory ever launched into space, to study the atmospheres of exoplanets – planets that orbit stars other than our own Sun.
The James Webb telescope, which was launched in 2021 at a cost of $10 billion (£7.4 billion), has the ability to detect tiny traces of gases in the air of these worlds, such as oxygen, methane, or carbon dioxide, that could indicate the presence of living organisms.
“The likelihood of life existing in some form in the universe is quite high. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that it is looking increasingly likely that the detection of life on an exoplanet will happen in my lifetime,” Professor Hinkley wrote in an article for The Spectator.
However, he cautions that finding alien life would not necessarily mean encountering an intelligent civilization, but rather observing chemical imbalances in the atmospheres of exoplanets that could not be explained by natural processes alone.
According to Nasa, there are about 100 million planets in our galaxy that could potentially host life, and many more in other galaxies. Some scientists estimate that we will find evidence of life on thousands of worlds in the next 10 to 20 years, which would be the greatest discovery in human history.
The James Webb telescope has already made some groundbreaking discoveries, such as detecting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a Saturn-sized planet 700 light years away for the first time.
However, not everyone is optimistic about the prospects of finding and contacting alien life. Some experts warn that humans may be too dangerous and violent for extraterrestrials to want to visit or communicate with us.
Dr Gordon Gallup, a biopsychologist at the University of Albany, argues that aliens may be too scared of humans, who “are dangerous, violent and ceaselessly engage in endless bloody conflicts and war”. He suggests that aliens may have already found us and decided to stay away for fear of being harmed or exploited by us.
Whether we are alone or not in the universe is a question that has fascinated humanity for centuries. With the help of new technologies and scientific methods, we may soon find out the answer – or at least get closer to it.