Space fans have been getting more and more excited about the possibility of finding alien life.
Various pieces of research have contributed to the idea among some commentators that it is only a matter of time before we get in touch with some form of alien life. However theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking disagrees.
Difficult task for humans to find alien life
Hawking says that the chances of finding intelligent alien life are incredibly small. The famous physicist was speaking at a news conference for the Breakthrough Starshot project in New York City.
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Hawking was speaking alongside billionaire Russian investor Yuri Milner and a number of scientists, who are working to put a large number of tiny wafer-size spaceships into space and sending them to Alpha Centauri, a neighboring star system.
Milner said that if the tiny spaceships travel at 20% of the speed of light it will only take them 20 years to reach Alpha Centauri. The craft will then complete a 1-hour flyby of the star system, collecting data that scientists cannot get from Earth.
Neighboring star system no longer out of reach
The spacecraft will take close-up photos, probe dust molecules and measure magnetic fields, according to Avi Loeb, chairman of the Breakthrough Starshot Advisory Committee and a professor of science at Harvard University. Members of the audience were excited to hear about the mission, but also wanted to know about the possibility of finding intelligent alien life.
Reporters passed their questions to Hawking in advance to give him a chance to prepare his answers. Hawking has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and is paralyzed. He speaks with help from a computer.
The physicist claims that it is unlikely that scientists will discover intelligent alien life in the next two decades. “The probability is low, probably,” he said.
However he did offer one caveat.
“The discoveries of the [NASA] Kepler mission suggest that there are billions of habitable planets in our galaxy alone,” Hawking said. “There are at least a hundred billion galaxies in the visible universe, so it seems likely that there are others out there.”
Hawking says alien life could threaten humans
We probably should have been worried if Hawking had said that we were likely to find aliens soon. He has previously predicted that intelligent alien life could threaten humankind. Even yesterday Hawking was asked what we should do if we find aliens, to which he responded: “We should hope that they don’t find us.”
However other members of the panel were more upbeat. According to Ann Druyan, an author, TV producer and wife of the late astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan, “extraterrestrials are beautiful until proven ugly, because of the great feat and demonstration of maturity that’s required to learn how to be a space-bearing civilization.”
She added, “It puzzles me that we always imagine the punitive extraterrestrials to be technically so far ahead of us, and yet every bit as stunted, emotionally and spiritually, as we are at this moment.”
Hawking later acknowledged that humans might not be all that. A member of the audience asked him what he thought aliens could look like, to which he responded: “Judging by the election campaign, definitely not like us.”
If Hawking is to be believed we won’t find alien life anytime soon, and that might not be a bad thing after all.