As the possibility of discovering extraterrestrial life catches up with fiction, the question may become more pertinent.
But most scientists argue that humans should be prepared for and welcome any potential encounters.
“Ignoring the possibility [alien life] and hiding your head in the sand, waiting for them to find us certainly isn’t a scientifically intelligent way to proceed or a good cultural way to anticipate something like that either,” says Mary Voytek, senior scientist for astrobiology at NASA. “Our approach to it has been to be prepared. We’re not going to get caught, say like the native Americans when Columbus came to their shores. We’ve been actively listening and hopefully we get some information before any eventual encounter ever happens.”
Scientists first discovered an extrasolar planet in 1992. Now Martha Haynes, an astronomer at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, says that just 18 years later astronomers are arriving at a point where the available technology combined with new search techniques is allowing astronomers to find more new planets than ever before. She adds that technology will only continue to improve and will likely see major breakthroughs in the next five to 10 years.