2056 – Aliens are Among Us!

In November, leading science magazine, The New Scientist, celebrated its fiftieth birthday by having a look forward another fifty years to what the world might be like in the year 2056.

They asked leading thinkers and boffins what predictions they have for our planet and the replies that came back surprised many. Expecting conservative, controversy-free answers, what came back from such noted scientists as Freeman Dyson and Colin Pillinger raised eyebrows all over the world.

Whilst predictions of technological and medical advances were at the fore, there was a surprisingly large percentage of voices suggesting that not only microbial alien life would be discovered, but also intelligent alien life. This represents something of a sea change in the halls of academia, where the notion of intelligent, extra-terrestrial life is often mooted, but usually behind a snigger-hiding hand.

Paul Davies, a professor of theoretical physics, cosmology and astrobiology at Arizona State University said that alien life could be found right here on Earth. Extra-terrestrial microbes might be indistinguishable from ones that evolved here on our own world and difficult to identify. He also suggested that life may have also independently evolved on Mars.

Chris McKay, of NASA’s Space Sciences Division, also posits the notion of Martian life, but goes on to plant flags on Europa, Titan, Enceladus. Like, Professor Davies, he is open to the possibility of alien life existing right here on Earth and refers to the ‘shadow biosphere’, a home for life that is unlike ours and so has no interaction.

Freeman Dyson, professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey, was another noted mind that backed the discovery of extra-terrestrial life forms. He said that once discovered, advances would follow quickly and our place in the universe would have to be questioned.

Monica Grady of the Open University would think it ‘very disappointing if we fail to discover signs of an extraterrestrial biology’ by 2056. She seems confident of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence by signing off with ‘SETI here we come!’

Professor Piet Hut, of Princeton, is also hopeful that life will be found on bodies in our own solar system. He believes evidence of extra-solar life will be found by analysing chemical signatures from planets orbiting other stars and that SETI ‘may detect extra-terrestrial intelligence’. He gives odds of 50/50 for any of those three predictions to come to fruition.

Colin Pillinger, professor of planetary sciences at the Open University and head of the ill-fated Beagle 2 project, is more cautious. He hopes that man may have set foot on Mars by 2056, but thinks it more likely that probes will have returned samples to Earth from the Red Planet and may also have ‘sniffed out’ life there, either living or extinct.

Carolyn Porco, leader of NASA’s Cassini probe imaging team, concurs with Pillinger, in that life itself or evidence of past life will be found on bodies within our solar system.

Steve Squyres, professor of astronomy at Cornell University, New York, believes that the chances of not finding life ‘out there’ in the next fifty years are virtually nil. He is somewhat cautious about finding evidence of life on Mars, however, noting that Mars and Earth have ‘been swapping rocks for billions of years’ and any evidence of microbes on Mars could be of an earthly origin.

While most of the scientists questioned refer to finding evidence of microbial life, it is interesting to note that the search for intelligent life also comes into the equation. Recently, Seth Shostak of SETI proclaimed that his team would find evidence of ET intelligence by 2025 and Ian Morrison of Jodrell Bank quipped that he believed that we would have direct contact with aliens before SETI detected a signal. Brazilian researcher, Rogerio de Almeida Freitas, has announced that the extra-terrestrial presence on Earth will be indisputable soon, with worldwide sightings of ‘huge’ UFOs captured by the media between November 16th, 2006, and April 30th, 2007. We’ll see…

With our space sciences still in somewhat of its infancy, we are flinging probes to worlds in our own solar system that may harbour life. We are also planning manned missions to the Moon and, possibly, Mars. Is it too much of a leap to suggest that intelligences far in advance of our own have already found their way here? Will the scientists be proven right in that we share our cosmic neighbourhood with a few microbes? Or will Freitas’ vision of mass sightings in the next six months come true?

Will we have to wait fifty years or is the truth a lot closer than we think?

Steve Johnson - 2006


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Updated 16th August, 2012