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Stephen Hawking aliens alert: a premature or primitive fear?

The Stephen Hawking aliens alert strikes one European scientist as premature. But speculation about extraterrestrial life is not new. It goes back to Greek philosopher Epicurus.

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An image from the 1953 movie 'War of the Worlds.'

Channel Five Broadcasting/Dreamworks/ZUMA Press/File

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When Stephen Hawking, one of the world’s leading astrophysicists, worries that alien “nomads” could potentially arrive at Earth “looking to conquer and colonize,” should humanity worry?

Is Mr. Hawking wrong to speculate about whether extraterrestrial life might pose a threat?

Well, at this point, says Fabio Favata of the European Space Agency, such musings are probably premature. There's no data either way.

“Many, many scientists are of the opinion that life is very likely to be common, but, quite frankly, until you discover it, it’s as much a philosophical statement as anything else. As a scientist you base your views on actual measurements,” says Mr. Favata, head of the ESA’s science planning and community coordination office. “Whether there are other life forms or not, I would say, is one of the oldest questions that mankind has asked itself.”

IN PICTURES: Famous Aliens

As far back as the third century before Jesus Christ, noted Greek philosopher Epicurus postulated that humans are not alone in the universe. “There are infinite worlds both like and unlike this world of ours. For the atoms being infinite in number, as was already proven, ... there nowhere exists an obstacle to the infinite number of worlds,” he wrote.

Since Epicurus’ time – and especially in the last 20 years – much evidence has emerged to give further credence to scientists like Hawking who theorize that other forms of life exist somewhere in the universe.

New technology and techniques for finding planets has revealed hundreds of extrasolar planets. Moreover, scientists have found that there are a wide variety of solar systems, some with small rocky planets close and others with large gaseous planets close to their star.

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