Part of what made the Apollo mission so awe inspiring was that looking back at a unified, fragile planet adrift in a cold and terrifying void made us reconsider who we were as a species, and our species’ place in a vast universe. The discovery of alien life, even if that life amounts to nothing more than a string of protein or some nucleotides, would undoubtedly prompt that same kind of introspection about the role of life in the cosmos.
Where We Are Now: The Mars rock ALH84001 famously contained what some believe are fossils of Martian nano-bacteria, as well as some biological material--but whether these are in fact Martian in origin or the result of Earthly contamination has yet to be solidly confirmed. Additionally, SETI continues to harness computers and telescopes worldwide, searching for signals from intelligent life, and the Voyager probes have left our solar system with solid gold records that serve as a message for any ET that happens to find them.
What Needs To Be Done: The current thinking is that the best place to look for extraterrestrial life is on Jupiter’s moon Europa. Europa has a vast ocean, as well as a good deal of oxygen in its atmosphere. The combination of water, oxygen, and energy from the gravitational pull of Jupiter have led some scientists to theorize that organic molecules might form life at the bottom of Europa’s oceans, similar to the life that formed on undersea volcanic vents on Earth.
Chances It Will Occur Within A Decade: Hard to say. There are no missions planned to explore Europa, but who knows when another chunk of Mars might fall out of the sky with more definitive evidence.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.