By Liz Thomas
Evidence of planets supporting alien life beyond the solar system will be found within the next 50 years, renowned astronomer Sir Patrick Moore has predicted.
But those fearing unwelcome visits can rest easy – he says Earth is too 'boring' for extra-terrestrials to bother with.
The 89-year-old added he expected people, who could afford it, to become space tourists to the Moon, Mars and perhaps the outer reaches of the solar system by the end of the century.
Speaking the launch of his new book The Cosmic Tourist, he said: ‘I am sure there is life out there. We cannot be the only ones.
‘I don’t think we would be on any [aliens] tourist list. We are a pretty boring planet, orbiting a boring star.’
Asked if recent discoveries of new planets beyond our solar system meant we were closer to discovering evidence of alien life in the next 50 years, he said: ‘Yes. We are not far off.
He added: 'We have found other planets. The next stage is to detect the atmosphere. You can [then] work out if it has oxygen. We would know that supports life so we can look for it.’
But he complained that a lack of funding could prevent British discoveries, warning that the amount the Government had spent on the war in Afghanistan - an estimated £20 billion - could have funded a comprehensive UK space programme.
Sir Patrick wrote The Cosmic Tourist, with his Sky at Night colleague, Dr Chris Lintott, from Oxford University, and Queen star Brian May, who has a PHD in Astrophysics, and is a close friend.
Dr Lintott said Virgin Galactic’s venture into space tourism would take off and people would pay to travel beyond earth.
He said: ‘I can certainly imagine people paying to go to the Moon or Mars. Further than the solar system and you will have to wait a while. To get to the nearest stars would take tens of thousands of years.’
Sir Patrick agreed: ‘In the next one hundred years. I hope cosmic tourism will be possible. I hope we could go to the [outer] part of the solar system. Distances in space are too vast to go further.’
This week Dr Lintott announced the discovery of a new planet, PH1, which is around 5,000 light years away.
It is believed to be six times the size of Earth, and has four suns in its sky – it orbits two, and is in turn circled by a pair.
It was discovered by two “armchair astronomers” using data from the Planet Hunters website run by Dr Lintott and colleagues, and later verified by experts.
The website allows visitors to identify dips in the output of stars caused by their light being blocked by 'transits' of orbiting stars.
Earlier this year, two viewers of the BBC’s Stargazing Live – Chris Holmes and Lee Threapleton – used information from the Planet Hunters website to discover evidence of a new world 3,000 light years away.
It is believed to be only the third time British amateurs have found a new planet.
Last month, the Queen’s astronomer Lord Rees explained developments in astronomy mean that astrophysicists could be able to view images of distant planets outside of our solar system as soon as 2025, and potentially discover whether there is some form of life on them.
He said: ‘We know now that stars are orbited by retinues of planets just as our sun is. We have learned this in just the last decade, essentially.
‘Within 10 or 20 years we will be able to image other planets like the earth, orbiting other stars.
‘That will be a really exciting subject to see if there is evidence for [extra-terrestrial] life or not.’
-= Cosmic Tourist published by Carlton Books is one sale now