Real life 'Avatar' moon waiting to be Found, Scientists Say

January 5, 2010

London, England (CNN) -- The portrayal of alien life on far-flung planets has been a favorite storyline for filmmakers down the years and is a perennial hit with audiences. "Avatar" has proved no different with the film doing record business at the box-office.

Director James Cameron's latest offering has once again renewed speculation that a real-life alien moon "Pandora" could be found.

Scientists all over the world are constantly gazing skywards looking for life in the distance reaches of the universe and powerful telescopes like Hubble and NASA's recently launched Kepler telescope are casting light into new previously undiscovered corners of the universe.

Colin Stuart, an astronomer at the world famous Greenwich Observatory in London told CNN: "With cutting edge technology now, we can start to look at the composition of the atmosphere of those planets. The tell-tale signs are oxygen and methane."

If you find those two gases, you could find life. And with the latest technology astronomers expect to transform our knowledge of the solar system and hopefully confirm once and for all the existence of alien life.

Launched in 2009 NASA's Kepler mission is already showing the potential to detect Earth-sized objects. On Monday NASA announced that the Kepler telescope had discovered five exoplanets (planets beyond our solar system).

Lisa Kaltenegger, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, thinks that there is every chance a real-life Pandora already exists
and is just waiting to be discovered.

"Alien moons orbiting gas giant planets may be more likely to be habitable than tidally locked Earth-sized planets or super-Earths," Kaltenegger said in a Harvard Smithsonian press release last month. "We should certainly keep them in mind as we work toward the ultimate goal of finding alien life."

When NASA launches the James Webb Space Telescope in 2014, Kalteneggar believes that if Earth-sized objects are found the telescope will be able to study their atmospheres and detect key gases like carbon dioxide, oxygen, and water vapor.

"If Pandora existed, we potentially could detect it and study its atmosphere in the next decade," she said.

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