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To date the only life we know about is here on Earth. Since the beginning of civilization, people have wondered whether there is life elsewhere in the universe. In 1984 American astronomer Jill Tarter and Thomas Pierson launched a project called Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), dedicated to that interstellar hunt.

The nonprofit institute was designed to pick up radio signals from space. Radio signals can travel long distances because they are less scattered or absorbed compared to other sorts of radiation, making them more likely to be detected by the 42 radio telescopes that make up the one-of-a-kind Allen Telescope Array in the Cascade Mountains of California. But for 30 years, no verified alien signal has been received.

Now, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been successfully deployed to aid the search. With its gigantic mirror and ultra-sensitive detectors, the world’s most powerful telescope (floating roughly 1 million miles away from Earth) will examine many distant unexplored planets orbiting distant stars. Twenty years ago, no other planets were known apart from those in our solar system. But since then, more than 4,000 other planets, called the exoplanets, have been discovered orbiting other stars. NASA estimates that the true number of exoplanets could be trillions.

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