NEW YORK (FOX5NY) - Practically since humankind could look up at the sky, the question has been asked: Do we have company up there, in the cosmos?
"I'm quite sure we're not the only intelligent species in the universe," said Dr. Seth Shostak.
For the last 25 years, Shostak and his team at the SETI Institute have been eavesdropping on space with their massive antennas in California. They are listening for signs that intelligent life exists or has existed.
"I find it hard to believe it hasn't, doesn't or won't," said Dr. Rebecca Oppenheimer.
Dr. Oppenheimer, Chairwoman of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and her team have been looking at images of planets for the same. Both Oppenheimer and Shostak agree, life must exist beyond Earth. In its simplest form, it could be as close as Mars or Europa, Jupiter's icy moon.
"I have this dream we'll send a probe, drill the ice and find a fish looking back," said Oppenheimer.
In the past decade alone, major breakthroughs in what we know about space have come through missions like the Kepler telescope; discovering countless planets in our galaxy so dense that, anywhere we see a star, there are likely planets revolving around it. Just like our solar system.
The Milky Way galaxy in which we live has a couple hundred billion stars. 1 in 5 of them might just have planets with liquid oceans and conditions in which life could occur.
The probability of planets capable of fostering life shot up dramatically with Kepler's discovery, for instance, finding 452B, also being called Earth 2.0.
"It's technically a bit larger than earth, but it does have a similar temperature and it orbits the star similar to ours," said Dr. Nicole Cole, research scientist on the Kepler and Kepler 2 missions.
When we talk about life in outer space, it's easy to feel a dreamer, but here's something for the realists in us. Scientists tell us life gets started very easily. You just need basic elements like water and oxygen and nature takes its course.
That's what happened on Earth, and rather immediately, according to scientists.
If you look at the history of this planet, the moment life could be here, it was.
Would it just be a matter of time before single cell organisms mesh together and start evolving into more complex life forms? Oppenheimer's fish, for instance. Even if there's a 1 percent chance, given the numbers, you see why experts believe intelligent life exists out there.
So why we haven't had contact yet? Maybe it's because we've just started looking. Shostak has been at it for 25 years but in a timeline of Earth, 4.5 billion years, we're starting kind of late.
Not to mention, we'd be counting on life on another planet to have developed the tools, at exactly the same time, to look for us and they may even be too smart for us.
If there had been other civilizations, even nearby, they may have gone through another stage of evolution where they see us as greasy bacteria.
Many astronomers believe the answers aren't light years away.
"This is the first generation with the scientific knowledge and tech to find something either we find it or you get a cup of coffee from me."