Is there anybody out there?

25 January 2010

What will aliens look like if we find them? Will we be meeting life-forms incredibly similar to ourselves? Or will they be the frightful monsters 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 will be discussed at a two-day conference starting today (Monday 25 January) at The Royal Society in London. The discussion meeting The detection of extra-terrestrial life and the consequences for science and society is the first to take place in the Royal Society’s 350th anniversary year.

Astronomers are now able to detect planets orbiting stars other than the Sun where life may exist, and living generations could see the signatures of extra-terrestrial life being detected. Should it turn out that we are not alone in the Universe, it will fundamentally affect how humanity understands itself and we need to be prepared for what will follow.

Highlights of the conference include Professor Simon Conway Morris FRS on predicting 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. Speakers will also include representatives from NASA, the European Space Agency and the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs. Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society and Astronomer Royal will also be chairing one of the sessions.

Professor Paul Davies will also give a public lecture ‘The Eerie Silence: are we alone in the universe? ’ on Tuesday 26th January.