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Extraterrestrial life forms could be 'our neighbours someday': NASA researcher

The search for life beyond earth is helping to shed light on our past, our present, and our future, says James Green, the director of planetary science at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. He is speaking Wednesday night at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

'Dinosaurs didn't have a space program and they became extinct', head scientist shares findings in Thunder Bay

This artist's concept allows us to imagine what it would be like to stand on the surface of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f, located in the TRAPPIST-1 system in the constellation Aquarius. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (IPAC))

The search for life beyond earth is helping to shed light on our past, our present, and our future, says James Green, the director of planetary science at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration headquarters in Washington, D.C.

"I think this is a fundamental question of inquiry at the moment," said Green, who is speaking Wednesday night in Thunder Bay as part of research and innovation week at Lakehead University.

"It's really all about the concept of how life started and are there locations beyond Earth where life could have started, and that's kind of important to know because they may be our neighbours someday."

'Not necessarily science fiction'

Research on the other planets in our solar system, and beyond, is starting to show "they may have harboured life in the past, and then, on top of that, there's environment that we're uncovering right now in the planets, and moons in particular, that may be conducive for life today, so it's a very exciting time for us," said Green.

James Green, director of planetary science at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. says this is "exciting time" for researchers studying the origins of life in the universe. He is speaking in Thunder Bay, Ont., on Wednesday. (NASA)

It is becoming increasingly possible that it could one day be science fact, "not necessarily science fiction" that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe.

"Every step we take we get positive indications that something unusual is going on that we need to investigate further," said Green.

'What is our destiny?'

Sometimes that investigation offers hints of what may be to come, for those of us who call Earth home.

"What is our destiny of this species as we go millions of years into the future?," said Green, noting that Earth may not be in the safest location in the solar system, due to the presence of a large number of near-Earth objects, which have collided with our planet in the past, and will likely do so again in the future.

He points to the Earth's rock record, which suggests an impact with a nearby object of a significant size sending an enormous amount of debris into the atmosphere, blocking out the sun and leading to the extinction of more than 80 per cent of the life that existed on the planet at the time.

"The dinosaurs didn't have a space program and they became extinct."

Green's presentation, The Search for Life Beyond Earth, in Space and Time, begins at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday March 8 in ATAC 1003 at Lakehead University.

The presentation will be livestreamed.

James Green, director of planetary science at NASA, says the search for life beyond Earth is one of the fundamental areas of inquiry of our time. (Lakehead University)