NASA's NExSS initiative will search for alien life

NASA is forming a new research team to zero in on habitable exoplanets.
By Kathy Fey | Apr 23, 2015
NASA plans to form a new interdisciplinary research team as part of an initiative called the Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS). The NExSS team will be tasked with rigorously investigating the possibility of life existing on the many planets that have been discovered beyond our solar system.

According to the Huffington Post, the team will include scientists from two research institutes and ten universities including Berkeley, Yale, Stanford, Penn State and the University of California. Those scientists will be joined by researchers from within NASA as well, hailing from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Ames Research Center and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

"This interdisciplinary endeavor connects top research teams and provides a synthesized approach in the search for planets with the greatest potential for signs of life," Jim Green of NASA said. "The hunt for exoplanets is not only a priority for astronomers, it's of keen interest to planetary and climate scientists as well."

NexSS will include researchers from many disciplines, bringing together astrophysicists, heliophysicists, and planetary and earth scientists, among others. The team will set their sights on the hundreds of possibly habitable exoplanets so far discovered, many by the Kepler space telescope since its launch in 2009.

The team will analyze the planets' atmospheres for chemicals that may have come from biological sources. "We really have to look for a chemical biosignature because we're never going to be able to measure little green men running around on the surface of a planet," Tom Zega of Arizona State University said.

The Yale University team will develop new spectrometers for analyzing the planets, and will also make changes to the interface of the Planet Hunters website, which brings citizen scientists into the search for exoplanets using data collected by the Kepler spacecraft.

Hopes are high that extraterrestrial life will be located in the near future. "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," Ellen Stofan of NASA said.

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