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The search could be on. A new study suggests that Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), has the potential to search three freshly discovered planets to see if anyone lives there.

The planets, which orbit a star just 40 light years from Earth, were discovered last month. Researchers suggest the JWST could probe their atmospheres for signs of life after it launches in 2018.

But will it? This is the latest salvo in a debate raging through the astronomy community. Astronomers are finally on the technological brink of being able to answer the question: Are we alone? Although the answer could be transformative and NASA cites the search as part of its primary mission, the quest so far has been slow and indirect – and many think that’s not enough.

“NASA has been shameful in not searching for extraterrestrial life and at the same time claiming that’s one of the motivations for their programmes,” says Chris McKay, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. “The Mars programme counts life as the reason for the programme, and then the missions NASA implements don’t even approach the question at all.”

Gee, I wonder why that is? To read more, click here.