Looking for Jesus on Planet Gliese 832c

(Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)
(Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

All religion is an attempt to answer the question whether we insignificant beings are alone in the universe.

On September 29, 2015, NASA announced new evidence of the presence of liquid water under the surface of Mars. This item even found its way onto the first page of The New York Times (despite all the competing news from Pope Francis, President Xi Yinping of China, and the ongoing invasion of Europe by hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East). Mars, the “red planet” virtually in the back yard of our Earth, has for many years been the focus of human imagination about intelligent creatures in outer space. Science fiction has generated libraries of books about “little green men” from Mars coming to visit. I suppose that the latest news from NASA will revive these fantasies, though if there is life in these underground puddles at all, it is unlikely to be more interesting than (at best) bacteria—quite unable (as in that classic cartoon) to walk up to a horse and say “take me to your leader!”

And with the enormous expansion in the power of telescopes, the search for extraterrestrial life has been looking farther afield. Astronomers have been making lists of far-flung stars with planets that might be able to support life. The one given the name “Gliese 832c” is, at the moment, a plausible candidate. (Don’t ask me to give its location on a map of the galaxy. I imagine that Gliese is the name of the astronomer who found the star, a very big one. The “c” stands for the location of the planet as number 3 going out from the mother star.)

The Spectator is that delightful British magazine, which claims to have been continuously published since its foundation in 1828 (I can’t vouch for this claim). It is sardonically conservative both on culture and politics, and has a bevy of writers with a fine sense of the English language. In the issue of September 19, 2015, it has a piece by Alexander Chancellor, a regular columnist, which ponders the question “How do you address extraterrestrials in outer space?” If you think that only somewhat deranged British eccentrics would pay attention to this question, let me try to dissuade you from this mistaken judgment. Chancellor is cautious about the chances of the question becoming practically relevant. He mentions the remark by one Anders Sandberg, who is connected with something called the Future of Humanity Institute (in Oxford, of all places), to the effect that the nearest plausible planet is ten light years away from Earth, which would mean a wait of 200 of our years for a reply to reach us from there.

Apparently there is ongoing discussion about the initial messages coming from our end. Already in 1972 a plaque attached to a spacecraft had pictures of a naked man and a naked woman, so that folks out there would know what we look like. Recently Dr. Jill Stuart, an “expert on space policy” (?) at the London School of Economics, has expressed worry that such pictures may give the wrong impression, because they are “western-dominated” (even though the naked figures show no racial features) and because the male of the species is in a “macho posture”. Probably any politically-correct design concocted by a concerned committee at the LSE would be useless, since the recipients on, say Gliese 832c, would have no idea what to make of these images—Sandberg observed that maybe their species would not have eyes. Be this as it may, Yuri Milner, a Russian tycoon, has offered a million dollars for the best image of homo sapiens to be broadcast from Earth (perhaps the winning image will be of a half-naked Vladimir Putin in martial-arts position?). According to the Spectator story, the same Yuri has already invested $100 million to develop better radio telescopes to listen for any intelligible messages coming in.


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SOURCE: The American Interest
Peter Berger

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