You must watch the entire US Congress' hearing on the search for alien life—it has so many awesome moments. It fills me with hope that at last some people in Washington are truly interested in the greatest discovery that Humanity would ever make.
Not only Dr. Mary Voytek (NASA's Senior Scientist for Astrobiology, Planetary Science Division), Dr. Sara Seager (Professor of Physics and Planetary Science at MIT), and Dr. Steven Dick (Baruch S. Blumberg Chair of Astrobiology, John W. Kluge Center, Library of Congress) made a wonderful case for exoplanet and astrobiology exploration, but the congressmen and congresswomen in the hearing actually also helped them making that case. They seemed genuinely impressed and excited. Shocking.
The best moment was seeing the witnesses testifying on the possibility of finding extraterrestrial life. For them, the possibility is not the question anymore. The question is when are we going to find it, not if. The best case scenario is in the next decade, probably using the Webb Space Telescope to be launched in 2018, although Dr. Seager was careful to point out that this is the best case scenario and that we shouldn't stop investing. All the contrary: we should put a 10-meter telescope up there so we can accelerate the survey of the firmament in the search for planets with signs of life.
Dr. Seager also said that "one hundred or a thousand years from now people will look at us collectively as those people who found Earth-like worlds. This will be our greatest legacy."
Dr. Dick nailed it too, asking for the need to renew the search for radio signals—like the SETI program—and other artificial signs of life: "No bio signature will be more important than a radio signal from another civilization in one of those exoplanets, especially if they have something to say." There shouldn't be a divorce between the search for microbial life, he said, and the search for advanced civilizations.
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