NASA recently gave a definitive answer to one of the biggest collective questions humanity has ever asked: are Earth’s inhabitants alone in the universe? NASA says the answer is “almost certainly no,” according to And while we could meet our alien neighbors within the next two decades, they may not take the form of what you’re used to seeing in science fiction.

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“I believe we are going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade and definitive evidence in the next 10 to 20 years, NASA chief scientist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Ellen Stofan said at a public panel in Washington earlier this week. “We know where to look, we know how to look, and in most cases we have the technology.

NASA interim director of heliophysics, Jeffery Newmark added that finding life beyond Earth is “definitely not an if, it’s a when.”

What do they expect to find? Don’t think Klingon or Ewok, think much smaller – microscopically smaller down to the microbe level. “We’re not talking about little green men,” Stofan noted. “We’re talking about little microbes.”

Related: NASA sending probe to Europa in search of ancient sub-glacial life

Mars is the main hot spot for NASA’s search for microbial life, as a study that analyzed the atmosphere above Mars’ polar caps suggests half of the planet’s northern hemisphere once had oceans a mile deep that contained water for as long as 1.2 billion years.

However, confirming life on the Red Planet might hinge on the ability to get boots on the ground in the form of field geologists and astrobiologists.

Another key location for life exploration is Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, which a recent study confirmed has a large liquid ocean underneath its icy surface. NASA believes the ocean may be a “habitable zone” where life could exist.


Images via Shutterstock and NASA, Flickr Creative Commons