In the coming years, Chile is expected to host 70 percent of global astronomical infrastructure.

In the Atacama Desert, the world's two largest telescopes - the ELT and the Giant Magellan - are under construction. When complete, they will provide direct views of planets in other solar systems. This will be an astronomical first.

Celestial objects have been observed and studied since the beginning of time. The planets and stars have helped human beings understand the cosmos, the way it functions, and its impact on our lives. Since Galileo Galilei became the first astronomer to use a telescope for his observations in the 17th century, humanity has devised newer and better ways to study the universe.

But what will these new facilities help us to discover? How will they change the way we look at our universe? And will they help answer the one question many are curious about: Is there extraterrestrial life?

When we went to the moon, all technology got an improvement, enormously ... The only way to survive in Mars is to have another technology. And if we develop the technology for a few of us to live on Mars, that technology is going to change our life on earth forever.

Dr Jose Maza Sancho, astrophysicist

"Life is there, potentially, in the whole universe. And when it arrives in a place where you know it's comfortable and can be developed, it does," says Chilean astrophysicist Dr Maria Teresa Ruiz. 

"Although we have no evidence, I would find it very, extremely strange that we would be the only ones in the universe. There are so many, so many stars, so many planets around them. I'm sure there could be life in many of them."

Ruiz is known for discovering the brown dwarf star system named Kelu-1, a sub star located in constellation Hydra, approximately 61 light-years away from earth. She is a pioneer, the first woman to have received a doctorate from Princeton University, and the first woman to receive Chile's national prize for exact sciences.

She says the advanced telescopes will help study the atmospheres of distant planets, to search for traces of oxygen or other indicators of life.

"When you see the universe through these big eyes, you are going to see something nobody else has seen before ... Often the case is what you see, the unknown, is the most interesting thing; something you cannot predict. It's like opening a window to the unknown," she says.

Dr Jose Maza Sancho also believes in the possibility of extraterrestrial life, even if not necessarily always intelligent life.

"There are eight million forms of life on earth. Most of them are bacteria, but bacteria is a form of life," he says. "My suspicion is that at the very least there are 100 billion places in the universe with life."

However, he adds: "But from one galaxy to the next, [for example] a big galaxy like the Andromeda galaxy, the distance is more than two million light-years. If you say 'hello, are you there?' in two million years your message will reach Andromeda. And if they say 'yes, we're here, what do you want?' another two million years for the message to return."

Sancho is a bold exponent of a number of extraordinary theories, including humanity landing on Mars and developing into a multi-planetary society as soon as possible.

"The next challenge, the next intellectual challenge, is to go to Mars," he says, "because it is possible".

"When we went to the moon, all technology got an improvement, enormously. Our life - you or mine, and everybody's life - changed forever because of the dream to go to the moon. The only way to survive in Mars is to have another technology. And if we develop the technology for a few of us to live on Mars, that technology is going to change our life on earth forever."

"It's a big challenge, but if we are able to develop the atmosphere in Mars, we will be able to clean our atmosphere. If we develop big machines like that to survive in Mars, those machines applied massively on earth, we could be taking out of the atmosphere as much carbon dioxide as we are putting in."

This week two of Chile's top astronomers, Dr Maria Teresa Ruiz and Dr Jose Maza Sancho, talk to Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera