IOWA CITY — Today’s scientists are discovering extrasolar planets at such a “phenomenal rate” that one University of Iowa alumnus turned NASA director said they’re hot on the trail for “Earth 2.0.”
And, he said, they could find it soon.
“This next decade, we’re going to hopefully answer the question, ‘Is there life beyond Earth in the solar system?’” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division who earned his doctorate in physics from UI in 1979.
During a visit to the UI campus this week, Green said rapid advancements in research — both in outer space and on Earth — have opened the minds of scientists to the real possibility that both microbial and complex life exists or previously existed or could exist on other planets.
Ingredients for life include water, energy, and organic material, and researchers in the past decade have confirmed an array of locations have those qualifying conditions: Mars; Titan, a moon off Saturn; Europa, a moon off Jupiter; and Enceladus, another of Saturn’s moon.
Green stressed he’s not just talking about microbial life.
“Intelligent life,” Green told The Gazette during his campus visit in which he — among other things — gave a public lecture and toured the “Hawkeyes in Space” exhibit in the Old Capitol Museum.
Places like Europa, which has a massive ocean under a thick ice shell, haven’t changed in 4 billion years, he said.
“That has provided an opportunity for life to become more complex,” Green said. “So we are starting a process of going to these places and interrogating them right now.”
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If they find life — even in basic form — that busts open the possibility that “life is everywhere in our galaxy.”
“The concept that different types of life might actually have been on other planets, or may be on planets today, I think is a real game changer,” Green said. “That means that on other planets around other stars someone is asking one of their scientists what do they think about life maybe in this solar system — out there on a place called Earth.”
“It changes the perspective completely,” he said.
To questions of conspiracies around unidentified flying objects and government secrets involving already-discovered life, Green said, “There is nothing that we do that we are hiding from the public.”
“As a scientist, because we know the concept of life beyond earth — if it exists — is revolutionary, there would be no reason we would hide it,” he said. “I would dearly like to find life and announce it. The last thing I would ever want to do would be to hide it.”