How would you react if we discovered alien life? This artist's concept depicts select planetary discoveries made to date by NASA's Kepler space telescope. (NASA/W. Stenzel/AP Photo/Nick Ut)
How would you react if we discovered alien life?
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For more than a century, we have pondered a question. What would happen if we ever came into contact with extraterrestrial life forms? Carl Sagan's book "Contact" and Jodie Foster's movie of the same name explore one possible scenario. In it, Foster plays a Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) scientist. She discovers a signal. It keeps repeating a sequence of prime numbers. They are originating from star system Vega. It is the fifth brightest star visible from Earth. The possibilities of such an encounter are worth pondering.
 
And yet experts believe that the odds of receiving a radio transmission composed of prime numbers or encountering intelligent extraterrestrial life in the near future are "astronomical." Even with Hillary Clinton's promise that if elected president, she would open up the "X-files" (Area 51).
 
But the odds may be increasing. This is due to continuing advances in technology. And it is also due to money. Russian billionaire and Breakthrough Prize co-founder Yuri Milner, along with famed physicist Stephen Hawking, have announced Breakthrough Starshot. It is a 20-year voyage. It will go to the Alpha Centauri star system. Should the existence of planets in the Alpha Centauri system be confirmed, Starshot could provide us with the best measurements of an exoplanet atmosphere we could ever hope to get this century. 

Milner will spend $100 million to fund the project. Mark Zuckerberg is on the project's board of directors. He is Facebook's founder and CEO.
 
The goal of NASA's Kepler Mission was to find terrestrial planets in the habitable zone of stars both near and far. Liquid water and possibly life might exist there. To date, Kepler has confirmed the existence of 2,337 exoplanets. In a press release issued by NASA, chief scientist Ellen Stofan said, "This gives us hope that somewhere out there, around a star much like ours, we can eventually discover another Earth."
 
But what would happen if we discovered life beyond Earth?
 
Christof Koch is a scientist. He is president and chief scientific officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science. He believes most people will be excited to learn that there is intelligent life out there.
 
"For some, 'contact" would be a wish come true. And fill us with awe. But for others, it would raise concerns. One can't assume that alien cultures are by definition benevolent," Koch says. "If we look at the history of our world, lesser civilizations were often destroyed by more advanced ones. Would the same happen to us?"
 
Hawking has warned against sending messages out into space for this very reason.
 
Koch has devoted his life to defining what consciousness is. This is whether it is the Internet, robots, animals, etc. It is doubtful that our first contact will be with humans from another planet. But, it is important for us to understand what consciousness is. This is so we can better understand what we discover.
 
The first discovery would probably be bacteria. This is according to Koch. That might excite some scientists. But it likely won't excite the general public. Another scenario might be a radio signal. Its origin would be questioned. Was it signal sent to us on purpose? Or is it random noise. If it's the latter, can it be explained scientifically?
 
"I am not holding my breath for a signal that includes prime numbers," Koch says.
 
Mary A. Voytek is a senior scientist. She is head of NASA's Astrobiology Program. She started Nexus for Exoplanet System Science. It searches for life on exoplanets. She notes that NASA scientists are looking at the most extreme conditions on Earth. They want to better understand what conditions can support life throughout the universe.
 
"If we can determine what makes a habitable planet on Earth, it will help guide us to look for conditions in the universe," she says.
 
Voytek notes that NASA acknowledges that the discovery of life has significance beyond science.
 
"Most people are excited about the possibility of the discovery of extraterrestrial life," Voytek says. "This is nothing new. The ancient Greek atomists in the fourth century B.C. wrote about it."
 
Douglas Vakoch is president of Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI). He says the majority of people believe that intelligent life is widespread in the cosmos.
 
He agrees that a discovery of something like a radio signal would result in arguments. There also would be a fading lack of interest due to time.
 
"It could take decades or even hundreds of years for us to get a response from a signal we send out. For people who are used to instant communication, this will be frustrating," Vakoch says.
 
Others think we'll have a more dramatic experience. One who does is Susan Schneider. She is a professor of philosophy and cognitive science. She works at the University of Connecticut. She believes that if we do find intelligent life, it will be most likely be in the form of super-intelligent artificial intelligence.
 
"For some people, this would be hard to accept. Discovering a civilization that is no longer biological would be scary for us."
 
But Schneider is optimistic. She believes most people will find the discovery of benevolent intelligent life exciting.
 
"People are excited by the unknown. And the discovery of a new civilization might have many potential benefits. Perhaps an advanced civilization will share their knowledge with us," Schneider says.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why wouldn't everyone be exited if life was found elsewhere?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (35)
  • giselled-ver
    10/07/2016 - 09:21 a.m.

    Because it could be something else that maybe can move and think but is not considered a human , also we dont know how these people think and how they would react if we were to find out about their existence and try meeting the in some sort of way .

  • ericas-ebe
    10/11/2016 - 10:37 a.m.

    Everyone wouldn't be excited because it could be some kind of plant or bacteria and we already have everything that that on earth.

  • christianb-ebe
    10/11/2016 - 02:05 p.m.

    It would be cool to discover alien life but also scary if we all left to go to a planet nobody has ever lived at what would happen to earth

  • calebs-ebe
    10/11/2016 - 02:06 p.m.

    They Would not be exited because they might thank there is to much life.

  • kiyag-ebe
    10/11/2016 - 02:11 p.m.

    I think people won't be exited because if our world ended we would have to live with them. But we don't breath there air.

  • libertyf-ebe
    10/11/2016 - 02:13 p.m.

    Everyone wouldn't be excited if life was found elsewhere because, they think that earth should be the the only planet you live on for the resin that so many people have and that if you go to another planet to live it would be a lot different than earth.

  • nicholash-ebe
    10/11/2016 - 02:13 p.m.

    People could be scared and someone before has said they fond intelligent life and some people committed soused.

  • averym-ebe
    10/11/2016 - 02:14 p.m.

    Because we would have a new place to live.

  • evanp-ebe
    10/11/2016 - 02:19 p.m.

    Because they may be harmful or carry diseases

  • emmac-ebe
    10/11/2016 - 02:20 p.m.

    Not everyone would be exited because maybe they can't afford the transportation, or a family member was sick and they don't want any sick people to come with them. There might be a limit on how many people could fit on the transportation device. Maybe some people might not be able to go for what they have done in the past. Some people might not go because they don't want to, maybe they like what their lives are like and they want them to stay that way.

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