The British Government Welcomes Our New Insect Overlords

June 6, 2007

It’s a mystery no longer: the aliens are out there, and we are about to meet them. To be precise, we’ll find life on Mars in the year 2015, and life in other solar systems in 2020.

These daring predictions, largely but not altogether tongue-in-cheek, were made by a panel of astronomers in London this morning at a round-table discussion with the UK science minister Malcolm Wicks, titled “Is there life out there? Other Earth-like or Habitable planets.”

Why would the British government be taking an interest in aliens? I entertained the hope of hearing some charmingly ruritanian pronouncement, perhaps claiming for her Majesty a slice of the possibly habitable super-Earth discovered this year.

Of course it was a much more sensible affair, briefing the minister on the search for life in space – for example what is meant by a habitable zone, and how remarkable it is that we can spot planets around other stars at all, given that space is big.

Then came a straw poll of the astronomers: is there life beyond Earth, and is any of it intelligent? Six out of seven answered Yes and Yes.

The dissenter, Michael Perryman of the European Space Agency, only doubted the intelligent bit, on the grounds that Earth’s circumstances are so special.

So where and when will we see some of this extraterrestrial life? It depends which mission you’re working on…

Ian Stevens, of Birmingham University’s extrasolar planets group, says the first hard evidence of alien life could come from Darwin (artist’s impression above), a European mission to directly observe extrasolar planets and analyse their light for chemical signatures of life. Darwin is scheduled to go up in 2018, so it could have found life by 2020.

John Zarnecki thinks that another European mission could beat them to it. In 2015, Exomars should land on Mars and dig down a couple of metres below the hostile surface, perhaps reaching a level where martian bugs can live.

Which is all very encouraging, as long as the natives are friendly.

From: http://www.newscientist.com



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