Curious about just how astrobiologists plan to make good on their goal to find life in space in the next 20 years? We’ve compiled some of the coolest upcoming search-for-life projects we could find–check out our feature on the subject here, and browse the gallery below for a guide to some of the most impressive efforts directed at finding extraterrestrial life.
Click to launch our guide to the current efforts dedicated to finding life in space.
The first will take place later this year, when Russian scientists will tap Earth’s final frontier, the subglacial Antarctic lakes. Any life they find under 2.5 miles of ice in the ancient isolated waters of Lake Vostok won’t technically be extraterrestrial, of course, but it could be new and bizarre – and akin to what’s possibly living in the suspected subsurface oceans on Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter.
Martians could also be on the horizon. With all the attention the Red Planet gets, it should come as no surprise that NASA’s next big flagship mission is headed there. Later this decade the agency will begin a long-term project to bring Mars rocks back to Earth. Many think the Mars Sample Return mission could be the one that finally finds ET (even if it is a long-dead microbe, not a little green man).
If we don’t find aliens in our own backyard, they could be lurking in other solar systems. As soon as next decade, a Terrestrial Planet Finder mission — something like the New World’s Observer telescope and starshade in our gallery — will look for signs of life in the atmospheres of extrasolar planets around other stars.
Here on the ground, the Allen Telescope Array, the first instrument completely devoted to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), could analyze enough star systems to come across alien radio transmissions in the next two decades – if the SETI Institute’s new crowd-sourced funding campaign pulls through. Read more about how and when we’ll find life (and what it could look like) in our online-only interview with Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the Institute.
And, just for fun, we’ve also included a round-up of some of our favorite close encounters with “aliens,” including a 1966 UFO chase in Ohio and (possible) microbes on a meteorite announced earlier this year. Happy hunting!