Good news for all you extraterrestrial life fans out there. NASA scientists believe we are closer than ever to finding life outside of Earth.

An all-star panel of the top minds at NASA and elsewhere talked about the prospects of finding life on Monday. Some of the people at the panel included NASA’s chief scientist Ellen Stofan, Senior Project Scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope John Mather, Director of Astronomy and Physics at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Dave Gallagher and more.

The top scientists on the panel talked about finding life outside of the solar system. Specifically, using telescopes to find it.

In recent years, the Kepler Space Telescope has helped scientists identify potential planets. Data collected by the telescope indicates nearly every star in our galaxy has at least one planet circling it.

In 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope will launch and help scientists figure out if the planets discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope have the right gases in their atmospheres to support life.

While the James Webb Space Telescope will help, scientists will need a bit of lady luck on their side.

“With the James Webb, we have the first capability of finding life on other planets, but we have to get lucky; we have to beat the odds,” Sara Seager, a planetary scientist at MIT who was present at the panel, said.

Still, the James Webb Space Telescope is a massive jump from previous telescopes. Check out the image below comparing the mirror sizes of the Hubble and James Webb telescopes.

Hubble versus James Webb mirror sizes

In the years after the James Webb Space Telescope launches, NASA will develop bigger and better telescopes. Top scientists believe the telescope necessary to find life will be launched within the next 20 years.

“I think in the next 20 years we will find out we are not alone in the universe.” John Grunsfeld, a former astronaut now a NASA science chief, said, “This technology we are using to explore exoplanets is real. The James Webb Space Telescope and the next advances are happening now. These are not dreams – this is what we do at NASA.”


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