2010: A Space Odyssey


Edward Dodd

There seems to be some new interest in the quest to prove extraterrestrial life.

If I were to put a definitive beginning on the renewed interest in aliens, I would say it is Stephen Hawking’s latest opinion on what extraterrestrials might be like. His assertion that meeting with aliens would be devastating to humanity caused a lot of stir among journalists and scientists alike. Hawking fears that alien society will be nothing like human society, making it impossible to communicate and to peacefully coexist with them.

He goes on to say that for the aliens to have travelled here, they would be so technologically advanced they would destroy us out of sheer disdain for our puny minds. His most fearful assertion is that these extraterrestrials might be nomads that travel from planet to planet obliterating all life and consuming all the natural resources available, then moving on to another planet, continuing their spree forever.

It’s a wonderful theory from arguably the smartest human alive, but it sounds familiar … Oh wait, that’s the plot to Independence Day starring Will Smith. Either Hawking has the imagination of a Hollywood scriptwriter, or he fell asleep in front of the television with the Space Channel on. I guess it is comforting to know that if this scenario does play out Will Smith is still around to save humanity.

Another story that’s captured a few headlines are the claims made by retired US Airmen that aliens have been landing and making the missiles housed in the US and UK inoperable. They say that this has been going on since 1948 and has occurred as recently as 2003. Their most shocking statement was that they were going to release several recently declassified documents that would prove their claims.

At first, I was excited. Aliens do exist, and they care enough about the survival of our species that they would disable our nuclear missiles so we cannot destroy each other. Upon further thought, I realized that dismantling our nuclear stockpile might just be a precursor to their invasion of Earth. Of course, if our “Independence Day” theme is to be followed, it’s not going to matter whether we have the nuclear option; the shields on their mother ship are probably much too strong to be penetrated by a nuclear blast.

Furthering the plausibility of extraterrestrial life, scientists have found an exoplanet (a planet that is not within our Solar System) in what’s called the “Goldilocks Zone” of inhabitability. For Trekkies, that means it is a Class M planet. For everyone else, it means it could support life.

Orbiting a red dwarf star just 20 light years away, Gliese 581g is one of the closest known exoplanets that could conceivably foster life. Even though one side always faces its star and the other faces away (much like the moon in relation to Earth), the ‘twilight zone’ between the light and dark side of the planet would allow life to potentially take hold.

However, that does not mean life exists there. Some scientists have put the possibility of life there as near zero, while others have stated it is likely closer to 100 per cent probable. Of course, this is not the home planet of the aliens that would visit earth. But it gives hope that life might exist somewhere outside of our Solar System and gives further evidence that Earth is not unique in supporting life.

Almost as a culmination of these events, a rumour started to swirl that Dr. Mazlan Othman, a Malaysian astrophysicist, was to be named the Chief Ambassador to Extraterrestrials for the United Nations should humanity ever make contact. Both Othman and the United Nations later denied this rumour, although Othman stated it wouldn’t be a bad idea to be prepared for such an event.

Of course, such a position would be a huge waste of government money and would probably become one of the most shiftless and useless organizations ever formed by humans. This means the pamphlet entitled “Let’s Say You’re the First Human Ever to Make Alien Contact” becomes even more important for every good global citizen to read. (Google it, it is pretty funny and makes some good points.)

So where does this leave us? Should we fear meeting with extraterrestrials as Hawking suggests, or should we prepare for it with great anticipation like Dr. Othman asserts?

Personally, I’d like to see a greater preparation for an eventual encounter with aliens, and naming an official ambassador would be the least humanity could do. I cannot really justify the costs with any concrete evidence, but the sheer number of stars in the galaxy is enough to convince me that humans are not the only life in the galaxy. That same ridiculous number of stars makes it possible that one of the life forms found a way to make interstellar travel possible.

Having an ambassador in place before aliens arrive would mean no embarrassing bickering in front of our alien guests about whom they should speak to.

Plus, if the UN has an alien ambassador, maybe I can be appointed to that position myself. That is this science fiction enthusiast’s dream job.

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