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ET not far away, says top scientist

Long before Steven Spielberg created ET, a movie about a boy who befriends a homesick alien trapped on Earth, scientists have searched for life on other planets. Now, a Nobel laureate says we might be “very close” to finding its existence, reports Anika Gupta.

india Updated: Jan 05, 2010 00:20 IST
Anika Gupta

Long before Steven Spielberg created ET, a movie about a boy who befriends a homesick alien trapped on Earth, scientists have searched for life on other planets. Now, a Nobel laureate says we might be “very close” to finding its existence.

“We are very close to finding other Earth-like planets in the universe,” said John C. Mather, a senior astrophysicist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), the US government’s space centre.

A series of telescopes slated for launch this year and over the next several years will carry a new radiation sensing technology that can detect whenever a planet revolves around a star. The upshot?

These ultra-sensitive satellites can zero in on galaxies that look like ours. Nasa’s Kepler Mission, launched in March 2009, monitors 100,000 stars in the far reaches of the universe, looking for a solar system that might be able to support life. It’s very close to finding one, said Mather.

“It’s very possible we are not the only beings in the universe,” said Mather, who won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on cosmic radiation.

Mather said water deposits on other planets and moons in our own solar system could provide clues into how human life was able to evolve on Earth.

An instrument aboard Chandrayaan-1 used sensing technology to detect water molecules on the moon earlier this year. Scientists have suggested that planet Mars might have similar deposits.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) is close to completing satellite launchers that it can be used to launch a mission to Mars, said S. Ramakrishnan, director of projects at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, responsible for satellite research at Isro. The government has been planning such a mission for several years.

Mather and Ramakrishnan spoke at a session on space technology at the Indian Science Congress in Thiruvananthapuram. The Congress runs until January 7. More than 7,500 delegates will the meet.