Liquid water possible on Mars ...epa04954404 (FILE) A file picture of an undated artist's concept, made available by NASA on 22 September 2014, shows the MAVEN spacecraft orbiting Mars. A new analysis of data collected by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on 28 September 2015 suggests the possibility of liquid water exisiting on Mars. EPA/NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Astronomers say there are more than 100bn planets in our galaxy, the Milky Way. Potentially, some of them could be habitable by living creatures, and the laws of probability suggest that aliens should be plentiful.

After 70 years of looking systematically, we have no evidence yet of creatures great or small, intelligent or otherwise, beyond Earth. However, new techniques in looking for extraterrestrials mean we could be getting closer.

In 2015, a $100m astronomy programme called Breakthrough Listen began a project to detect artificial signals from space. It will survey a million of the stars closest to Earth, and a hundred of our nearest galaxies, in both optical and radio frequencies.

Astrobiologists, meanwhile, are searching for simple extraterrestrial life forms beneath the arid surface of Mars, in the salty oceans discovered on the moons of Jupiter and the methane and ethane lakes of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

50 ideas to change the world

We asked readers, researchers and FT journalists to submit ideas with the potential to change the world. A panel of judges selected the 50 ideas worth looking at in more detail. This fifth and final tranche of 10 ideas (listed) is about meeting challenges on a planetary scale and beyond.

  • Oceans harnessed for carbon storage
  • How to create a carbon trading system that works
  • Lasers and bots track carbon in the forests and seas
  • Cleaning up the plastic in the oceans
  • Metal-organic frameworks create molecular ‘supersponges’
  • Mobile phones harnessed for disaster alerts
  • Invisibility cloak’ metamaterials harnessed for commercial use
  • Strategies to dodge space junk
  • Asteroid ‘fueling stations’ for space exploration
  • Video: new techniques to find extraterrestrial life
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