(The following article was written by Alvin Powell, Harvard University Gazette.)
With a bit of luck and a new space telescope, within five years we could know the answer to a question that humanity has pondered for millennia: Is there life beyond Earth?
With initial results from the planet-finding Kepler satellite to be released in coming months, and the prospects of taking a closer look at those planets in the coming years with the Webb space telescope, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger said the chance for discovery of small, rocky Earth-like planets with the potential to harbor life is pretty good.
"It is within our grasp to do this," Kaltenegger said during a talk Wednesday (Sept. 15) sponsored by the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative.
Kaltenegger's enthusiasm for her subject was reflective of the current excitement among astronomers who’ve spent years searching for planets around other stars. A major focus has been to answer the question of whether there are other Earth-like planets out there and whether those planets might harbor life.