One of humanity’s biggest, most mysterious and baffling questions has been whether or not there is life outside of Earth. Now, scientists are getting closer to answering it, thanks to various technological advances and the growing number of space missions in recent years.
Sometimes, there is evidence that shows up under humankind’s noses, such as the two meteorites that crashed into the planet in 1998, Newsweek reports. In those rocks were found minuscule bright blue salt crystals which contained small pockets of water not from this world that, in turn, had organic compounds – the building blocks of life.
Queenie Chan, a planetary scientist at Open University in the UK and first author on the study, said, “I think it’s likely,” regarding life within this solar system. Better yet, the science that might find this life is up to par. She added,
That’s why we like searching missions, isn’t it?
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, for example, has been studying the most massive thing in the asteroid belt: Ceres, the dwarf planet. Chan and her fellow researchers think that the salt crystals present in the meteorites may have first been formed on Ceres, or a similar space object, so they have been following the data that Dawn has gathered. This means identifying compounds like sodium chloride, or table salt, and sulfur dioxide. Chan said, “When I saw them I was like, ‘Hey, I saw that in our sample too.’”
The Dawn mission ends this year, but there are many spacecraft on the way, like the Europa Clipper, which NASA plans to fly by Saturn’s moon, Europa, in the 2020s. Scientists suspect that this moon could host life, based on the belief that it has a giant salty ocean and volcanic activity happening under its shell. Life needs water. Therefore scientists have theorized that chemicals like oxygen and carbon dioxide might be forming on this moon.
Chan says that it’s quite likely there is life somewhere in the solar system, just waiting to be found. The odds are even more significant when expanded outside this. “It’s easier to say that, the universe is so big,” she said.