"Will We Discover a Real-World Pandora?" The Law of Probabilities Points to 'Yes' Say World's Leading Experts
What will alien life look like if we find it? Will we be meeting life-forms incredibly similar to ourselves? Or will they be the aggressive aliens of sci-fi films? How do you break news of alien discoveries to the world without creating wide-spread pandemonium? These are just some of the questions that are being discussed by several of the world's leading authorities at a conference on Extraterrestrial Life starting this week at The Royal Society in London. The meeting is not intended to give any conclusion on whether other life exists but give a snapshot of where we are in our quest to find it -- and speculate on the impacts of such a discovery on human society.
Several of the world's leading authities will be discussing the question: Professor Simon Conway Morris FRS a British paleontologist at Cambridge University will predict what extra-terrestrial life might be like and preparing for the worst, Professor Albert A Harrison on what the reality of human responses to extra-terrestrial intelligence might be, and Nobel prize winner Christian de Duve on life as a cosmic imperative.
A line-up of world-leading astronomers, biologists and astrophysicists including SETI founder Dr Frank Drake, principal investigator for the British Beagle 2 Mars lander project Professor Colin Pillinger and Director of the BEYOND: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science Professor Paul Davies, will be discussing man’s search for extra-terrestrial life and the consequences for science and society.
"There is no firm evidence that life exists elsewhere, but there is a very firm probability (for it)," said Baruch Blumberg, an astrobiologist at the Fox Chance Cancer Center in Philadelphia.
"My clear prediction is that living generations have an excellent chance of seeing extra-terrestrial life being detected," said Martin Dominik, an astronomer at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.
Life on Earth may have been kickstarted thanks to carbon molecules and dust that drift through interstellar space, said Pascale Ehrenfreund, an astrochemist at George Washington University, Washington.
If so, "the basic building blocks of life -- at least as recognised on Earth -- must be widespread in planetary systems in our Milky Way and other galaxies," she suggested..
"We don't even know how life began here on Earth and that being said, we don't even know how to place our bets on how widespread life is or where to look for it," Lord Rees, president of the Royal Society, said in an interview.
New astronomical tools, including powerful orbital telescopes, are exposing "extra-solar" worlds, or planets orbiting other stars, and one of them could eventually be revealed as a potential haven for life, said Blumberg. Since 1995, "more than 400 extrasolar planets have been detected and the number is increasing rapidly," he said..
If alien life exists, our first discovery is likely to be in microscopic form, which would not be too disconcerting for our civilisation, said Albert Harrison, a social psychologist at the University of California at Davis. It could be as a bacterium found in promising sites in the Solar System such as the sub-soil of Mars, Jupiter's satellite Europa or on the Saturnian moon Enceladus, which are thought to harbour oceans beneath their icy crust, some hope.
Simon Conway Morris offered a contrasting view. "My own opinion is that the origin of life is a complete fluke," he said. "I fear that we are completely alone... there's nothing (out) there at all, not a thing."
Should smart aliens want to contact us, he warned, "They could be like the Aztecs, just as aggressive and extremely unpleasant," he said. "If I'm wrong, and the telephone rings, whatever you do, do not pick it up... we might not want to say hello."