Various discoveries by NASA and other organizations during the past few years have generated considerable interest within the mainstream media and the general public in the search for extraterrestrial life.NASA’s Kepler space telescope has been on a planet-hunting mission since 2009, searching for Earth-like planets. The mission has already confirmed the discovery of 61 planets and found more than 2,000 planetary candidates. And recent data from the European Southern Observatory’s HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher) planet-hunting telescope suggests that there are tens of billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy alone, many thought to have the correct conditions to support life.
These recent discoveries have excited scientists, and are fueling additional efforts to search for life elsewhere in the universe. The Canadian Astrobiology Network (CAN), centered at the University of Western Ontario, announced today a partnership with NASA. The press release from CAN stated, “A number of extraterrestrial targets, including Mars and the moons Europa and Titan, have been identified by NASA as having the potential to host life or to provide valuable insight for researchers and scientists into the conditions that may have been present on Earth when life started.” As an affiliate within the NASA Astrobiology Network, CAN hopes to “strengthen existing ties, facilitate the establishment of new collaborations, and enhance training opportunities for both Canadian and American researchers and students,” according to CAN chair Neil Banerjee.
More exciting was today’s announcement that the Kepler mission will continue at least through 2016. Originally scheduled to conclude later this year, NASA announced today that funding for Kepler is being extended. Space.com explains, “NASA’s prolific Kepler space observatory, which has found signs of thousands of alien planets, will keep hunting strange new worlds for at least four more years.”
The development of new search initiatives and the continuation of existing successful missions are good signs that the momentum already built up by mainstream science in the search for extraterrestrial life is continuing, and, perhaps still increasing.