Anonymous, the global hacking collective, believes that alien life exists—and it thinks that NASA is about to confirm it.
The shadowy group made the claim in a 12-and-a-half-minute video published on an unofficial YouTube channel on Tuesday.
The video centers around recent findings by the American space organization, including the discovery of 219 new planet candidates—10 of which present similar conditions to Earth—by NASA’s Kepler space telescope team in June, as well as comments made by a senior NASA official in a U.S. government hearing.
But while Anonymous is right to point out that NASA is probably closer than ever in human history to discovering extraterrestrial life, it is a big jump to say that there’s already concrete evidence for it.
NASA has made statements recently that point to an optimism that the discovery of aliens is a matter of when, rather than if. “Taking into account all of the different activities and missions that are specifically searching for evidence of alien life, we are on the verge of making one of the most profound, unprecedented discoveries in history,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, before the House Committee on Science, Space in April.
But while Zurbuchen and others at NASA are undoubtedly enthusiastic about the prospect of finding aliens, they have never claimed evidence to have actually done so already.
Space exploration has made massive advances in recent years. The Kepler Space Telescope cited by Anonymous in its video, and which launched in 2009, has already discovered more than 4,000 planet candidates, including 30 planets of a similar size to Earth and could be amenable to life, located within the solar system that Earth inhabits.
NASA has even found evidence of another potential solar system—a collection of planets orbiting around a single orbiting around a star—located just 39 light years from Earth.
In February, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope team said it had found the first known system of seven planets orbiting a single star, known as Trappist-1; the planets were all of a similar size to Earth, and three were located within the so-called habitable zone of the star—i.e. not so far away that water would freeze, nor too close that the planet would burn up, but the zone most likely to be conducive to liquid water.
Researchers have even been able to identify the specific location where life might be most likely to exist outside Earth. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, in the final months of a 20-year mission earlier in 2017, pinpointed Enceladus, an icy moon of Saturn, as a key place for further exploration.
The surface of the moon is covered by a liquid water ocean, which is encased by a thick shell of ice. But the Cassini observed that plumes of gas, including hydrogen, were spewing out of a geyser and into space. Hydrogen is vital building block for life for microorganisms, suggesting that such forms of life could inhabit Enceladus.
But despite all these advances, extraterrestrial life remains a mystery. The director of NASA, Charles Bolden, told British schoolchildren in 2015 that he did believe that “we will someday find other forms of life or a form of life, if not in our solar system then in some of the other solar systems.” But Bolden declined to put a date on it and other experts—including popular astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson—have put the discovery of complex organisms at least 50 years away.
And while space researchers are close to being able to identify extraterrestrial life, current telescopes do not allow them to spot the chemical fingerprints—traces of water and gases that indicate life, known as biosignatures—on planets outside the solar system (known as exoplanets).
That will soon change: in 2018, NASA will launch the James Webb Space Telescope, an ultra-sensitive device that means they will be able to see these traces of extraterrestrial life, should they exist. But even then, biosignatures do not provide 100 percent proof: for final confirmation, a spacecraft would need to travel to the exoplanet in question and collect samples.
Finally, were NASA to have found evidence of alien life, it’s unlikely that they would be sitting on their hands. The discovery would be a momentous political win for the United States, akin to winning the so-called space race against the USSR when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon in July 1969. So if the evidence was there, it’s likely that NASA would share it at the earliest opportunity.
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