A Hong Kong academic who has just been given a senior position in a global body that hunts for aliens in space says be believes the search will bear fruit within 20 years.
University of Hong Kong's dean of science, Professor Kwok Sun, made his prediction yesterday after being elected vice-president of the International Astronomical Union's (IAU) bioastronomy Commission 51.
Scientists under Commission 51 search for evidence of life, past life or the chemistry that leads to life in the solar system as well as look for habitable planets around other stars.
"Bioastronomy is a very new aspect even for astronomy but of high current interest," said Kwok, who is also chair professor of physics at the university.
"Many like me believe we will one day be able to find outer-space life forms, which could also help us to further collaborate to achieve the international science goal of understanding the origin of life on earth," he said. "All of the scientists are using different technologies and new methods to look for other life, and I believe we can find extraterrestrial life within 20 years' time."
Speaking from Beijing where the commission is meeting, Kwok said he was "honoured by the trust in me to take this new, exciting discipline to a higher level".
The union, founded in 1919, is an official international body for astronomy, funded by the national governments of many countries.
With more than 10,000 members, including many leading scientists, it is also the recognised authority for official naming of all celestial objects. Its assembly in 2006 in Prague resulted in the removal of Pluto as a major planet in the solar system.
Kwok, a leading astronomer specialising in the study of planetary nebula - a class of spectacular-looking objects formed near the end of a star's life - said he believed he was first Hongkonger to join the union's committee.