WASHINGTON, Dec. 5 (UPI) —
The likelihood of life on other planets is “very high,” a planetary scientist told a House committee in a hearing some Democrats chided as evading U.S. issues.
Seager was one of three Ph.D.-credentialed witnesses prominent in a scientific field once considered speculative who testified at a hearing called “Astrobiology: The Search for Biosignatures in Our Solar System and Beyond.”
A biosignature is a substance — such as an element, molecule or even a phenomenon — that provides scientific evidence of past or present life.
Seager studies gases on distant planets that might indicate life.
The others testifying were NASA astrobiologist Mary Voytek and science historian and astrobiologist Steven J. Dick of the Library of Congress.
Voytek and Dick also answered Hall’s question.
Dick said, “I think the guiding principle holds that what’s happened here has happened elsewhere in our huge universe,” the Washington Post reported.
The 90-minute hearing, called by committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, brought praise and respect from Democrats in the room but partisan mockery from a Democratic campaign committee outside.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to the House, said GOP lawmakers were holding a hearing on “space aliens” rather than tackling issues such as immigration reform or a minimum-wage increase.
Seager, whose scientific research has earned her a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” told lawmakers scientists now had the capacity to make a breakthrough.
The next-generation James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2018, and other advances are changing the search for alien life forms, she told lawmakers.
The Hubble Space Telescope, carried into orbit by a U.S. space shuttle in 1990, recently detected water in the atmospheres of five planets outside the solar system, two published studies reported by NBC News Tuesday indicated.
The testifying scientists appealed to lawmakers for funding, including investment in space telescopes designed to detect biosignatures.
The latest White House budget calls for $17.7 billion for NASA, a slight decrease from 2012.