Science

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NASA/AP
This photo provided by NASA shows the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus. The
enthusiasm NASA has for finding otherworldly life is focused more on Mars and the Jupiter
moon Europa than the most recent findings on Saturn's moon Enceladus. (AP)

New Findings Prompt Resurgence of Alien Hunt

June 27, 2008 05:06 PM
by Shannon Firth
Recently discovered planets, Japan's interplanetary stakeout, and the discovery of alkaline soil on Mars are bringing new hope to the search for extraterrestrial life.

30-Second Summary

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According to The New York Times, most of the 250 planets discovered outside our solar system “have no solid surface and [are] hundreds of times the mass of Earth.” Last week, however, scientists in Geneva listed 45 planets they believe are rocky like our own, renewing hope of life in outer space.

NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, slated to launch in February 2009, will follow 100,000 stars over four years, searching for signs of planets with a similar orbital path to Earth’s own.

Also in 2009, a dozen observatories in Japan will explore the question of life in outer space by filming one individual star for a few nights, recording radio signals and performing light analyses.

In Japan, the question of alien life dominated government discussions in December 2007, when cabinet member Nobutaka Machimura said he believed aliens “definitely” exist.

And in the small town of Hakui, Japan’s government funded what Time magazine writer Sachiko Sakimaki called a “$48 million UFO welcome mat.” However, alien fever might not have been what drove the project forward. Sakimaki speculates, “The Japanese government is an easy touch for funds that might bring business to fading areas.”

Additionally, the discovery of alkaline soil suitable for plant growth on Mars has fueled speculation of life on the Red Planet. "We basically have found what appears to be the requirements, the nutrients, to support life whether past, present or future," said Samuel P. Kounaves of Tufts University, who is leading the soil analysis. 

Headline Links: Researchers’ mission: locate alien life

Background: Recent space exploration; Japan’s space race with China

Historical Context: The beginning of extraterrestrial research

Opinion & Analysis: Why all the fuss?

Reference: Astronomy guide

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