This is how NASA could find alien life

A team of US researchers have generated a report detailing the steps NASA needs to take to advance its hunt for life beyond our own planet. The guidance covers a variety of topics, including previous work and future technological needs. Among other things, the team points out that unusual life found on Earth could help scientists look in the right places in space.

The report features the work of a panel of experts gathered by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. In it, scientists detail the field of astrobiology and progress that has been made in it over the last few years. The collective also offers a strategy for NASA to move forward in its search for life beyond our own planet.

The space agency has a lot of work ahead of it in the mission to find alien life, not the least of which is the development of new technologies that will help with the hunt. According to the report, scientists will need instruments that can block starlight, as well as very powerful telescopes, among other things.

As well, the report highlights the need to think about the habitability of a planet as something that exists across a spectrum rather than the simple 'is' or 'isn't' determination. That circles back to discoveries of life in unexpected places on our own planet, indicating that microbes could be found in relatively inhospitable places on exoplanets.

Even when potential life is found, though, the report points out that it'll be tricky identifying it. Scientists look for bio signatures in data, but it'll take time and more work to determine how to best evaluate these signatures and determine whether life has actually been discovered.

As well, the report touches on the topic of advanced alien life, such as the type being sought by SETI. Such efforts have, in the past, been dismissed or ignored, but it remains an important aspect of astrobiology, which isn't limited to only searching for single-cell organisms.

The report, which is available via the link below, is 196 pages long.