This summer has been an exciting time for political and space-alien junkies alike. On the E.T. front, NASA has discovered so many new planets that it spurred Sara Seager, a professor of planetary science at MIT, to say, “We believe we're very, very close in terms of technology and science to actually finding the other Earth and our chance to find signs of life on another world.”
And as far as politics goes, we’ve got exciting midterms—blah, blah—and the 2016 presidential race is heating up—blah, blah, blah—Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, “Chris Christie is his own newly discovered planet” joke, etc.
OK, so our insipid political discourse is light years less exciting than exoplanets, which brings me to my next point:
Isn’t it totally bizarre that we would never elect a president who claimed to believe in extraterrestrial life and included the issue in his platform? Yet it’s beyond required that all of our candidates believe in an omnipotent magic man in the sky who reads their thoughts and does them favors if they ask nicely?
C’mon, that’s weird! We treat the latter as pious and thoughtful and the former as kooks? That’s really weird!
It ain’t exactly top-secret Area 51 info that extraterrestrial life certainly exists—or did you not see “Cosmos”?
Consider this: With 100 billion planets in our galaxy alone (8.8 billion of them Earth-sized and sitting in the Goldilocks zone of their stars) and a German supercomputer telling us there could be as many as 500 billion galaxies in the universe, believing in aliens is just believing in math. Believing in a sentient Creator who meddles in human affairs and keeps a Santa-like list of the naughty and nice takes far more of a logical leap.
I get that atheism is the least trusted characteristic in American life, but set that aside for a second. Doesn’t it make sense for our elected officials to take a serious position on what will happen if and when the eerie silence ends and we bump into evolution’s handiwork in another world?
NASA’s recent discoveries were the work of the Kepler Space Telescope, situated 353 miles above Earth. In 2018, NASA will launch the James Webb telescope, which will set up shop 930,000 miles from Earth—four times as far away as the moon. The Webb telescope will be able to detect biosignature gasses in other atmospheres, the kind produced by life.
Therefore, it is not unreasonable to say that within two or three decades we could have evidence of alien species. What are we going to do about that? If they are less evolved, will we begin an imperialist project to colonize and eat a planet of space cows? If they’re hyper-advanced will we send them a Kanye record to see where they’re at in their development of hip-hop? I’m joking, but not really.
The right biosignature gas would be one of the great discoveries of human civilization. There would be deadly serious questions of what to do with such a discovery. Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear a politician talk about that instead of yet again holding forth on his Theories of What Adult Santa Claus is Thinking?
Stephen Markley is a RedEye special contributor.