Alien life could be found within 40 years, says royal astronomer.
Alien life beyond our solar system could be discovered within the next 40 years according the Queen's astronomer, Lord Martin Rees, said last night.
The question of whether earth is alone in supporting living organisms has dogged scientists, philosophers and amateur stargazers for centuries.
But Lord Rees, president of the Royal Society, believes that developments in astronomy mean that astrophysicists could be able to view images of distant planets outside of our solar system as soon as 2025, and potentially discover whether there is some form of life on them.
Lord Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, says life beyond our solar system could be discovered within the next 40 years
He said: 'We know now that stars are orbited by retinues of planets just as our sun is. We have learned this in just the last decade, essentially.
'Within 10 or 20 years we will be able to image other planets like the earth, orbiting other stars.
'That will be a really exciting subject to see if there is evidence for [extra-terrestrial] life or not.'
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Speaking at a debate on the meaning of life for the launch of Professor Stephen Hawking's new show Grand Design, he added that finding out more about the "origin of life, the place where it exists, and whether aliens exist, is going to be crucial over the next four decades.
Professor Hawking was guest of honour at the debate, which also featured Cambridge University Professor Dame Athene Donald, writer Will Self, and geneticist Dr Adam Rutherford.
Based on his best-selling book Grand Design, his new programme for the Discovery channel will tackle the key to the cosmos, taking in everything from Isaac Newton's law of gravity to the recent Higgs Boson findings.
Lord Martin Rees was speaking at a debate for the launch of Professor Stephen Hawking's new show Grand Design. Prof Hawking is pictured
He also looks at the relationship between God and science, and what the meaning of life is for humans.
Professor Hawking, who has previously described the notion of heaven as a "fairytale" will cause further controversy with religious bodies, with his comments during his new series.
He said: 'I think science can explain the universe without the need for God.'
Lord Rees admitted that there may be some scientific challenges that are "beyond human brains" and that we may even need alien interaction to help us learn more.
He said: 'There may be some questions that our brains will never understand, in the same way that chimpanzees couldn't understand quantum theory, that are just beyond human brains.
'It could be some of the challenges [we face] may not be fully solved, we may have to wait the post-human era. That is evolution beyond humans – and we are not the culmination of evolution on the earth.
Or we will have to wait till we can learn from some aliens who may be some way ahead of us.
Last year Lord Rees said it was possible that aliens were "staring us in the face" in a in a form humans are unable to recognise.
He commented: 'The problem is that we're looking for something very much like us, assuming that they at least have something like the same mathematics and technology
'I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms we can't conceive.'