The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) made news earlier this week with its somewhat cocky prediction that extra-terrestial life will be discovered within the next twenty years. The space agency estimates that there are over 400 billion stars in our galaxy (the Milky Way) alone, and at least 100 million planets that could be capable of sustaining life.
Over 5,000 new planets have been identified in the past five years - more than in the entire preceding history of astronomy. This surge in space exploration and discovery has been due primarily to the advent of telescopes (the Hubble and the Kepler) operating in space which can see much further than has been previously possible. In 2017 NASA will launch the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) which will have four telescopes - and NASA will also launch the new James Webb Space Telescope. Both of these ventures will have the mission of finding "another Earth," or planets that appear as though they could host life.
A lot of people have been on the internet commenting on this story, and basically the comments can be broken down into four groups: those who appreciate the scientific merits of the story and look forward to the day when we will know our neighbors, skeptics and cynics who feel that the NASA announcement was made solely to stir interest in the agency and help to secure more government funding, the X-Files conspiracy diehards who believe that the aliens have been here for years and that NASA and other government agencies have been actively keeping that information from us, and the religious - some of whom are openly anti-science and think that if anything is discovered it will have been faked because homophobic white Christians are the be-all and end-all of God's grand plan - and others who are already poring through their Bibles looking for vague references to extra-terrestials so that when the discovery does happen they can proclaim righteously that it was all part of God's plan and foretold in the Bible.
Unfortunately with the world the way it is today and the focus on never-ending war, space exploration seems doomed to always take a backseat to the manufacture of arms and the equipping of armies. But if the aliens decide to introduce themselves through an attack, then we'll spend some money - you betcha we will!