What if aliens exist?

By Kenia Cris

Image by Enrico Doria

Three hundred and sixty is the number of movies ever made featuring extraterrestrials, but aliens are not just subject matter for movies and fuel for individuals’ imagination –  scientific study and discussion of extraterrestrial life and its scientific and societal implications  have been happening all over the world and will crucially challenge and change our view of nature and ourselves in a near future.

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A released last Monday the proceedings of two conferences about life in other planets organized in January and October 2010 including not only scientists working across  astronomy, physics, mathematics, electrical engineering, computational linguistics, medicine, biology, biochemistry, geochemistry, planetary, Earth sciences, but also a psychologist, an anthropologist, a philosopher, a theologian, a space lawyer, two science-fiction authors, a futurist, a former diplomat, a former NASA Chief Historian, the leader of the UK delegation to the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), and the Director of the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).

The detection of now about 500 extrasolar planets has nourished the expectation to meet extra-terrestrial life. According to scientists, the United Nations should be charged with coming up with a plan to deal with extraterrestrials when contact happens. They believe COPUOS should put “supra-Earth affairs” on their agenda and establish structures similar to those proposed for dealing with threats from near-Earth objects, such as asteroids, that might be on a collision course with our planet.

Simon Conway Morris, a professor of evolutionary paleobiology at Cambridge University, points out that evolution on alien worlds is likely to be Darwinian in nature. Morris argues that life anywhere else in the universe will therefore probably have important similarities with life on Earth – especially if it comes from Earth-like worlds that have similar biological molecules to ours. “Why should we ‘prepare for the worst’? First, if intelligent aliens exist, they will look just like us, and given our far from glorious history, this should give us pause for thought”, he said.

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