I’m putting this in print now, so that I can point at it later: Assuming it makes it to its Lagrange point fully functional and successfully accomplishes all the various complicated unfoldings and such necessary to start receiving data and transmitting it to Earth, the James Webb Space Telescope is going to discover evidence of extraterrestrial life at some point, and probably at many points, during its lifetime. A slightly inaccurate story about NASA hiring a bunch of theologians to discuss the possibility of alien life blew up on Twitter over the weekend, which led to everyone speculating that NASA already knew about alien life Out There Somewhere and was scrambling to figure out how it presented it.
To be clear, when I say “life,” I’m talking about microbial life, although discovering evidence of intelligent life would be a lot easier, relatively speaking, especially post-the-alien-equivalent-of-the-Industrial-Age life, which would involve a planet emitting a lot of light from its dark side on a tight band of wavelengths and would be difficult to explain as anything other than artificial life. Microbial life is going to involve lots of hypothesizing about chemical analysis and will have people arguing about it for decades, if not longer.
I have actually said this part in print before: I think that ultimately we’re going to discover that there’s a pretty high probability of life anywhere liquid water exists, and I think there’s probably half a dozen or so places just in our solar system where life exists or existed at some point outside of Earth.(*) Remember, 20 years ago we didn’t even know if planets existed outside our solar system– one of my finest moments in Divinity School involved an argument with an actual astrophysicist about the Drake equation, where I argued that we would eventually discover planets would be common, something I was absolutely right about– and I have the same level of certainty that 20 years from now we’ll have had the same sea change about extraterrestrial life.
(*) Including, but not limited to: Mars, Io, Enceladus, Europa, Venus and Titan.
Go ahead, bookmark the page. Y’all can come back and laugh at me in 2027 if I’m wrong.