Here's how long experts think it will take to find alien life

In the course of human history, perhaps no landmark would ever compare to the discovery of extraterrestrial life. Hell, you've been waiting for it your whole life: that amazing moment where little grey dudes land on Earth, wave hello, and ask to be taken to your leader... assuming they don't vaporize Earth's cities, first. The mass of people who wanted to storm Area 51 demonstrates just how hungry Earthlings are for intergalactic companions. On the other hand, while meeting an E.T. would be ridiculously cool, it'd also prove that humans truly aren't the center of the universe. Is Earth ready for that? And, if you ask the experts, how long will it be before first contact finally happens? 

Well, when the big question of "How long?" was presented to researchers from MIT, SETI, and more at the 2019 International Astronautical Congress, according to Space.com, their estimates were surprising. Strap yourself into that flying saucer, buddy, because aliens are (maybe) coming sooner than you think.

When can the alien dance begin?

Now, if you ask that guy on the History Channel, he'll argue that such estimates are superfluous, since aliens built the pyramids, your boss is an alien, and your ex was trying to harvest your brain. The folks at this convention, though, are serious people who spend their lives looking for genuine proof of alien existence via scientific means, and believe it or not, most of them anticipated that news about extraterrestrial life would arrive in their lifetimes. Wishful thinking? Perhaps, but again, these people don't shout "aliens!" at every comet. For example, the director of the U.K's Jodrell Bank Observatory, Mike Garrett, hopes to see evidence of life on Mars within a few decades. Similar estimates were given by Lucianne Walkowicz, of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, and Andrew Siemion, director of the SETI Research Center in Berkeley. The soonest date came from Claire Webb, a PhD. student at MIT, who — based on the arguments of SETI founding father Frank Drake — banked on the year 2024. 

Whoa, 2024? So you might be hanging out with aliens before Valve gets around to making Half-Life 3, already? Crazy!

That said, understand that even if humans find evidence of alien life (and yes, that remains a big "if") there's no guarantee it resembles you. As Smithsonian argues, defining "life" is tricky. Humans could waltz right by some crazy alien creatures and not recognize them. Furthermore, while humans pretend to be Earth's dominant life form, single-celled organisms have a stronger claim on that title, and according to the Independent, it's entirely probable that extremophile alien bacteria could be squirming beneath the Martian surface. Such bacteria, then, could easily be carried across galaxies by interstellar objects like 'Oumuamua, the famed space cigar, thereby spreading life across the universe.

Not the kind of first contact you dreamed about? Stay tuned, because as one popular TV character might say, the truth is out there.