Aliens Will be Found by 2040'
An artist's impression of a planet orbiting the yellow sun-like star HD 209458, 150 light-years from Earth. About 10% of the known planets circling suns in the galaxy resemble Earth, which increases the possibility that alien life exists elsewhere. REUTERS/NASA

It does look like the presence of alien life in the universe will get confirmed sooner than we think. A high-ranking Nasa scientist has revealed that humanity is on the verge of discovering alien life.

"I think we're going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we're going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years," Nasa chief scientist Ellen Stofan said on 7 April, in Washington during a panel discussion that focused on the space agency's efforts to search for habitable worlds and alien life, reports Space.

"We know where to look. We know how to look," Stofan added during the event, which was webcast live. "In most cases we have the technology, and we're on a path to implementing it. And so I think we're definitely on the road."

Former astronaut John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for Nasa's Science Mission Directorate, added that signs of life will be found relatively soon both in our own solar system and beyond.

"I think we're one generation away in our solar system, whether it's on an icy moon or on Mars, and one generation [away] on a planet around a nearby star," Grunsfeld said during the event.

Nasa plans special missions and initiatives to search for alien life

Nasa is all set to roll out new key projects and missions to make the discovery of alien life a reality as soon as possible. The agency's next Mars rover, scheduled to launch in 2020, will search for signs of past life and cache samples for a possible return to Earth for analysis. Nasa also aims to land astronauts on Mars in the 2030s — a step Stofan regards as key to the search for life on Mars.

Nasa is also planning out a mission to Europa, which may launch as early as 2022. The main goal of this $2.1bn mission will be to shed light on the icy moon's potential habitability, but it could also search for signs of alien life: Agency officials are considering ways to sample and study the plumes of water vapour that apparently erupt from Europa's south polar region.

In the exoplanet realm, the agency's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), an $8.8bn instrument scheduled to launch in 2018, will scope out the atmospheres of nearby "super-Earth" alien planets, looking for gases that may have been produced by life.

Paul Hertz, director of astrophysics at Nasa, talked about how future telescopes already in the works will help scientists scan the atmospheres of large rocky planets around distant stars for chemical markers of life, reports Los Angeles Times.

"We are not just studying water and habitability in our solar system, but also looking for it in planets around other stars," he said.

What will alien life-form look like?

Grunsfeld said part of what excites him most about the search for life beyond our planet is to see what that life looks like.

"Once we get beyond Mars, which formed from the same stuff as Earth, the likelihood that life is similar to what we find on this planet is very low," he said.

Stofan however, tried to paint a more realistic picture on what alien life could look like: "We are not talking about little green men," Stofan said. "We are talking about little microbes."