NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will leave Earth in 2018 and search for chemical fingerprints that would indicate life on other planets.     Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight CenterFlickr

NASA: We'll Find Aliens Within 20 Years

And that's a "conservative" estimate

This might surprise people who've given up on the chance an extraterrestrial encounter within their lifetimes: A panel of NASA scientists says we should find alien life within 20 years. And that's a "conservative" estimate.

As former astronaut and NASA administrator Charles Bolden said, most people working in the space industry realize that the sheer limitlessness of space means we're probably not the only life-forms around—even if we've never found any evidence. But as technology improves, we can search for life a lot more efficiently.

Thanks to the Kepler Space Telescope, launched in 2009, scientists have found that in our galaxy alone, there's probably at least one planet circling every star. The NASA panel is making such a bold statement partly because we're making huge new discoveries at an astounding rate.

"We already know that our galaxy has at least 100 billion planets, and we didn't know that five years ago," said Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland. As NASA releases additional, more powerful telescopes, we only increase our chances of discovering a life-supporting planet.

The panel says it's looking for ways that mere space enthusiasts can get involved in the search. Until then, if you have 90 minutes to bask in the wonders of the universe, you can watch the entire discussion with NASA's space experts right now:

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