What Would Happen If We Actually Found Alien Life?
On September 14, the search for alien life made a groundbreaking discovery: Microbes could be floating in the clouds of Venus and producing a toxic substance known to exist only on Earth. Scientists detected the presence of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere. On Earth, phosphine is produced by bacteria.
What exactly is phosphine? Clara Sous-Silva of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology describes it in the most poetic manner: “It just smells horrific. We once, I think, found a report of someone saying phosphine smelled like the rancid diapers of the spawn of Satan.”
Our collective rhapsody at the discovery of a gas that smells like the rancid diapers of Satan’s spawn is a compelling sign of our existential loneliness in the Universe.
Instances when humans mistook regular things for evidence of alien life
It is not the first time humanity has reacted quite energetically to a piece of information that could remotely be related to the existence of alien lifeforms.
In 1967, scientists accidentally discovered pulsars—named so because it produces pulsating waves of radiation. People thought they were signals coming from intelligent alien species, but pulsars turned out to be dead stars.
In 1977, a similar cosmic signal was detected by astronomer Jerry Ehman in the constellation Saggitarius. He was so astounded by his discovery he wrote “Wow!” next to the readings representing the anomaly. People and scientists alike believed it was evidence of extraterrestrial life. But in 2017, the “Wow!” signal turned out to be just a pair of comets.
The 'Wow!' Signal
Fast-forward to 1996, scientists discovered a meteorite from Mars that appeared to have fossilized microbes. This would later be debunked because the “alien microbes” were too small for much larger protein molecules to form them.
'Microbes' on Martian Meteorite
Who could forget the media frenzy in 2015 when astronomers observed the dimming of Tabby’s Star. They hypothesized that the dimming was caused by an alien megastructure called Dyson Sphere harvesting the star’s energy. Now we know it is just dust and there is no Dyson Sphere.
A Theoretical Dyson Sphere
Most recently, a viral video of an “alien space ship” was captured in New Jersey on September 14, 2020. People were hysterical when they saw the footage. It turned out to be just a regular blimp advertising a product.
But imagine what would happen if we actually discovered alien life.
What would happen if we actually discovered alien life?
Based on the global excitement that false discoveries of alien life have generated in the past decades, discovering alien life might not be so bad after all.
During a 2015 conference at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Michael Varnum of Arizona State University said it will likely be okay for us to discover alien life.
Varnum and his team of researchers looked at people’s reactions to the vast collection of headlines and surveys about discovering alien life. They found that most people reacted positively to news relating to the discovery of extraterrestrial life.
There is an international protocol for the discovery of alien life.
Governments around the world have actually prepared for the discovery of alien life. This is led by the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA). If we ever discover alien life, scientists will abide by the Post-Detection Policy or PDP. It is also known as the Post-Detection Protocol.
The Protocol is two pages long and contains instructions on how to inform the public and handle the public’s reactions to the discovery. The Protocol for the post-discovery of alien life depends on three factors:
- Our readiness to accept that aliens exist
- How the news of the discovery of alien life is released
- The comprehensibility of the signal sent by aliens
How will religions react to the discovery of alien life?
According to a 2015 study published in Space Policy, among all religious groups, Catholics are the most optimistic that humans will discover alien life within the next 40 years. More than any other members of different religions, Catholics also embrace the possibility that life exists beyond Earth.
This is a healthy indicator of the comingling of faith and science.
References to alien life in the Bible are nonexistent except for something Jesus said in John 10:16: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
Of course, it may not be about aliens at all, but it gets pretty exciting when you think about it that way.
No less than the Vatican Observatory’s Fr. Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti of Rome’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross said “the last word on the question of extraterrestrial life will not come from theology, but science. The existence of intelligent life on planets other than the Earth neither rules in, nor rules out, any theological principle. Theologians, like the rest of the human race, will just have to wait and see.”
That simply means the Catholic Church is prepared for the possibility of discovering alien life.
In an article from the Boston Globe, Hindus would probably accept the possibility of the existence of aliens. They would just wonder where aliens would rank on the hierarchy of living beings.
Islam, on the other hand, also embraces the possibility of alien life existing. The Koran has many references to intelligent and rational beings existing on other worlds, and all those creatures worship Allah.
Other religions whose members are generally likely to believe other life-filled worlds exist are Mormonism and Buddhism, while those likely to reject the possibility are Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Evangelical Christianity, according to the Boston Globe.