Scientists from the University of Cambridge in the UK, Harvard University and the University of Chicago in the US, and the Swiss Technical University of Zurich (ETH Zurich) have announced that they are starting an initiative to search for extraterrestrial life. This initiative is headed by Swiss astronomer and Nobel Prize laureate Didier Queloz.
“I believe that life is embedded into the laws of physics of the universe,” said Didier Queloz, who discovered the first exoplanet orbiting a sun-like star in 1995. "We are living in an extraordinary moment in history. The discovery of many different planets is the big game changer. We have found a huge diversity of planetary systems and a lot of them are quite different from the solar system."
As the Financial Times reports, since the mid-1990s, astronomers have discovered more than 5,000 exoplanets and believe that there are billions of such planets in the Milky Way alone.
Members of this project to find extraterrestrial life intend to use all the latest scientific instruments and capabilities, including the James Webb Space Telescope, as well as upcoming missions to the moons of Mars and Jupiter. They hope to find any sign of extraterrestrial life, whether simple microbes or advanced civilizations.
Emily Mitchell, a biologist at the University of Cambridge, believes that simple life should be widespread in our galaxy, given how quickly microbes appeared on the young Earth about 4 billion years ago.
“As we begin to investigate other planets, bio signatures could reveal whether or not the origin of life itself and its evolution on Earth are just a happy accident or part of the fundamental nature of the universe, with all its biological and ecological complexities,” she said.
Didier Queloz agrees with Emily Mitchell that simple life is probably infiltrating the universe. However, he believes that high-tech civilizations may be extremely rare because a civilization accumulates knowledge that makes it easier to destroy that very civilization.
Heather Graham, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, is sure that the discovery of extraterrestrial life will not be based on a single piece of data.
“If we get a really cool result from a Mars rover or from a telescope, we’ll need to look at another way to confirm it. We have started to think about life detection and bio signature detection as being suites of data rather than singular pieces of data,” she said.