exoplanet
Exoplanet scientists to meet to discuss future missionsNasa/JPL

Planet hunters are set to meet to discuss the search for alien worlds over the coming decades following years of dispute between scientists working in the field.

Scott Gaudi, chair of Nasa's Exoplanet Exploration Programme Analysis Group, will be heading the meeting in Seattle on 4 January between US exoplanet scientists.

According to Nature magazine, fights over data and research have dogged the field over recent years, so a plan is much needed if the search for extra-terrestrial life and alien worlds is to be successful in the future.

Lisa Kaltenegger, an astronomer at Cornell University in New York, said: "We live in a time where, for the first time in history, we can potentially answer whether we are alone in the Universe. It would be such a shame if we don't get to it."

Experts are coming close to finishing analysing the data provided by Nasa's Kepler spacecraft. By the mid-2020s, scientists hope to have a new satellite to look for planets – the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).

It is hoped scientists will then be able to say how many planets there are in our galaxy – but where to go from here is the burning question.

"The big thing we're wondering now is: what is it that we want to do after WFIRST?" Gaudi said.

Nasa funding relies heavily on community surveys taken every decade. In the last, exoplanet science performed poorly because of disagreement within the community.

Researchers are now hoping to get a telescope that could observe alien worlds.

Looking further ahead, Aki Roberge from Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Centre said the search for extra-terrestrial life will begin in the coming years.

"I believe the time is near when we should really try to tackle it with a mission capable of finding habitable conditions on nearby Earth-like worlds and seeing if they might support life."