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Journey to the ‘exoplanets’ just waiting to happen: All it takes is money

Signs of life beyond Earth could be found within a decade under the most optimistic scenarios but the U.S. will need to keep up spending to maintain pace in a 21st century space race, astrobiologists told Congress on Wednesday.

 The planet Tatooine in 'Star Wars'

The planet Tatooine in ‘Star Wars’

Sara Seager, a physics and planetary science professor at MIT and recipient of a 2013 MacArthur Genius Grant, said scientists never like to speculate, but said the discovery of simple life forms off elsewhere could occur in the relatively near future. …

She told the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology that NASA’s Kepler telescope has found that about 1 in 5 sunlike stars should host an Earth-size planet outside of our solar system that can sustain life. …

The James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2018, is capable of studying the atmospheres of such “exoplanets,” and a separate mission scheduled for launch in 2017 will survey nearby stars for such planets. Ms. Seager said finding actual life would probably take a telescope with technology beyond the capabilities of the Webb telescope, but once that happens, results could come in relatively quickly.


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