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In search of ET

Astronomical advances mean that over the next decades we may discover if other life exists

By Martin Rees   January 2011

Out of this world: an artist’s impression of an exoplanet based on data from Nasa

Are we alone in the cosmos? Evidence for any extraterrestrial organisms, even mere bugs or bacteria, would be of huge scientific importance. But what fuels popular imagination is the prospect of advanced life—the “aliens” familiar from science fiction. Speculations about other worlds are nothing new. Great astronomers such as Johannes Kepler in the 17th century and William Herschel a century later imagined that the Moon and planets might be inhabited. In the late 19th century, Jules Verne and HG Wells further popularised such ideas. But…

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