Barrack Obama may have killed funding for NASA largest space exploration projects like manned missions to the Moon, but groundbreaking research is still moving towards making big discoveries in space. NASA scientists are employing new ideas and technology to gain a better understanding of our solar system and the universe beyond. These new technologies make it possible to gather as much light and energy from outer space. This may get NASA closer to confirming the existence of extra-terrestrial life in the near future.
Smaller and more streamlined missions into outer space are already starting to make their mark as mankind searches for understanding of our universe. NASA missions have been studying places from with in our own solar system, our galaxy, and even areas outside the Milky Way Galaxy.
Building blocks of Life found around our own Solar System
Despite funding cuts, there still are a number of NASA space craft still circling the solar system, studying planets, comets, and asteroids. These space craft are using complex sensor arrays, looking for building blocks of life and organic substances. An unmanned mission circling the moon even found one of the main building blocks of life: water.
In October of 2009, the LCROSS experiment sent a spent rocket stage hurtling towards the surface of the moon. When the rocket stage impacted the surface of the moon, a debris cloud was kicked up above the surface. NASA used cameras on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter that took images of the debris. These cameras are able to take images in seven different wavelengths. The images were compared and NASA scientists were able to confirm the existent of an abundance of water ice particles within the plume of debris.
NASA space craft have also found evidence for water further away from Earth, as far away as Saturn. The Cassini-Huygens space craft has been studying Saturn and its rings over the past four years. The Cassini mission has made multiple discoveries of the essential building blocks of life from within our solar system. Most recently, it was announced that Cassini found and atmosphere on Rhea, a moon of Saturn. The atmosphere around Rhea is thin, and it contains both oxygen and carbon dioxide. When compared with Rhea, the atmosphere on Earth is considerably more dense. NASA also recently announced that the Cassini space craft took images of water and ice ejecting from the surface of Enceladus.
Search Extra-Terrestrial Life Outside of our Solar System
The Spitzer Telescope is using an infrared camera and space based telescope to make observations of planets and features outside of our own solar system. NASA is making extensive observations of our own planet and looking for ways to apply those observations to other solar systems. NASA scientists found that as the Earth orbits the Sun, it leaves behind a dusty disk. This disk is easily observable by NASA space craft from a distance. The Spitzer Space Telescope is cataloged the structure of the dust trail that Earth is leaving behind.
NASA scientists are using telescopes like the Hubble Telescope to spot other dust tails are planets outside our own solar system. So far, they have found about 20 dusty disks around planets outside of our own solar system.
In all likely hood, these two technological marvels will never independently be able to confirm the existence of extra-terrestrial life. However, they are making it possible of NASA scientists to confirm the existence of planetary systems beyond our own that have similar appearance and structure to our own. With the abundance of organic materials in our own solar system, one can assume that similar amounts of organic compounds also exist on these external planetary systems.
It could still be years, or even decades before NASA makes a big announcement about the existence of extra-terrestrial life. With the new discoveries of essential building blocks of life throughout our solar system and beyond, it may only a matter of time before NASA confirms the existence of extra-terrestrial life. Technologies will continue to evolve, new ideas and scientific techniques will take hold, and someday, we will find that we are not alone.