From our origins, humans have been inspired by pinpoints of light in the night sky. They cause us to wonder about our existence. Who are we? What are we doing here? Where did we come from? And, where are we going? Despite impressive investment and activity in space exploration over the years, the question remains unanswered.
This decade sees a once-in-a-lifetime investment into the ‘Search for Life Beyond Earth.’ Research communities, governments and philanthropists alike are set to explore. NASA’s Apollo program showed that sufficient commitment of resources can lead to breakthroughs. Their progress, culminating in the Moon landing, inspired many to become astronomers. Both NASA and ESA have active and planned missions focused on the detection and characterisation of exoplanets. Most large observatories have invested in planetary astronomy and “Big Data” approaches, including the upcoming Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) at the Vera C. Rubin observatory and the radio Square Kilometer Array (SKA). Meanwhile, new Machine Learning (ML) algorithms will make the search for technosignatures feasible at scale.
We still do not know if there is life beyond Earth or how probable it may be. But if it exists, we might find it (or it us) as early as tomorrow. And, there or not, found or not, the search itself has a profound impact on humanity. Beyond science, the ‘Search for Life Beyond Earth’ raises complex questions of policy, law, philosophy, and theology. It challenges us to think critically about life as a category and as a thing of value. But we are not prepared for a discovery. This multi-disciplinary symposium will bring together diverse expertise to investigate and plan how we will assess evidence and communicate what we know (and don’t know) with the public. We should plan early, setting out impact assessments, protocols, procedures and treaties that allow us to act responsibly as individuals and communities and as a species. Any outcome will have to be presented to ‘Planet Earth.’
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in editorials are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of The SETI League, Inc., its Trustees, officers, Advisory Board, members, donors, or commercial sponsors.
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this page last updated 7 October 2023
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