With researchers’ focus being on finding sentient life (with the Kepler Spacecraft, the recent TESS satellite, and monitoring radio waves from space), the burning question – besides are we alone – is how will humans react if we find alien life.
According to science fiction movies, the world would end; cities would come to a standstill, random wildfires would pop up and destroy homes, and the heroes would bravely risk their lives to save humanity. Luckily, we don’t live in a science fiction world, and people would more than likely react differently than you might think, according to one study.
There may be aliens in our Milky Way galaxy, and there are billions of other galaxies. The probability is almost certain that there is life somewhere in space. – Buzz Aldrin
A study was launched by Arizona State University professor Michael Varnum. He came up with a multi-part study to figure out how humanity would react to discovering alien life. The first part of his study was dependent on a computer program that read through different alien articles on the Internet to see what the general language of the different articles were. Surprisingly, the tone and voice of the articles were very positive and hopeful. The next part Varnum and his team got a group of people and gave them hypothetical news that alien life was discovered and asked that group to write about it.
Again, the language and tone of the articles were positive and hopeful. The final part of this study is something a little more real, and not just hypothetical. Varnum and his team asked a group of 500 people to read one of two articles; one was about finding microbial life on a Martian asteroid, and the other was about genetically created life. After those 500 people read either of those articles the researchers asked them for their response. Of the two articles, the one about microbial life on a Martian asteroid was seen as positive while the article about creating life in a lab was generally negative. After collecting the results of the study Varnum came to the conclusion that “this suggests if we find out we’re not alone, we’ll take the news rather well,”. If you want to read the study for yourself you can check it out here.
It is important to note that this study was only conducted in the United States, so obviously we don’t know what the reaction worldwide would be. In all likelihood, the reactions across the world would vary by culture. Another thing that is important to remember is that these reactions are to hypothetical situations, not something that has already happened. We might like to think we would be happy if we find sentient life, but our true reactions might be different than our hypothetical ones. If, or when, we discover aliens humans might react differently. Based on the results, however, it looks like our reactions would be positive. We think it is safe to say that humans will probably be a little nervous and skeptical about alien life, probably from the fear we have developed from watching all those sci-fi movies and reading creepy books.
For hundreds of years, humans have always looked to the stars an have wondered about whether we are alone or not. This idea has sparked hundreds of books and movies, and even radio with the readings of The War Of The Worlds back in the 1930’s. In these works of science fiction, the aliens come to harvest us or invade our planet, or whatever it is that aliens do. In reality, we may very well be the ones to find alien life based on our technology and our very active search.
As we mentioned above, humanity is searching for any signs of alien life. We have an ongoing project called Breakthrough Listen Initiative that listens for radio frequencies and radio waves to determine whether or not the frequencies we receive or natural or are created by an unnatural force. Another device we have in our arsenal in searching for alien life is the Kepler telescope. Kepler’s mission is to search through various solar systems and find habitable exoplanets (exoplanets are planets that orbit around a star). It does this by searching in the habitable zone (sometimes referred to as the “Goldilocks Zone“) of a solar system to determine if conditions are suitable for life. This does not tell us if there is life or anything in that regard, but it does help us determine if life could exist on those planets.
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, also referred to as TESS, has a very similar mission to the Kepler telescope, but TESS can see 400 times than Kepler can. TESS was launched on April 18th and is expected to have a 2-year lifespan, although most NASA spacecraft exceed their lifespan by many years. TESS will look for planets within the habitable zone just like Kepler, but TESS can see more stars and planets than Kepler. Once TESS finds these exoplanets it will send information back to Earth for the James Webb Telescope to further look at and study.
Not only are we searching for alien life outside of our solar system, but our various probes that orbit around most of the planets in our very own solar system may find signs of life. Recently scientists have theorized that Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, could harbor life to microorganisms that feed off the water that covers that moon. The Mars InSight, scheduled to launch soon, could find some type of life (alive or maybe even fossilized) while learning about Mars’ seismic activity, or maybe one of Venus’ probes could find something that points to life. The point is, we are very actively searching for life everywhere in the universe, and quite a lot of people believe that our search could actually find something out there. As a species, it is impossible to say just how we will react to it, but I imagine that it will probably be positive, with a healthy amount of nervousness.