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Stephen Hawking aliens theory doesn't scare planet hunters

British scientist Stephen Hawking says that aliens might 'conquer and colonize' Earth. His colleagues disagree.

By Correspondent / April 26, 2010

ET, from the 1982 film ET the Extra-Terrestrial, is seen here with actress Drew Barrymore (left). In a new Discovery Channel documentary to be aired in May, British scientist Stephen Hawking suggests that with 100 billion galaxies in the universe it seems 'perfectly rational' that aliens exist.

Bruce McBroom/ Universal Pictures/Newscom


British scientist Stephen Hawking is worried that any extraterrestrial life we find is likely to be a creature out of the movie Predator – not ET.

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But many fellow scientists disagree, and won't stop looking for alien life beyond Earth.

In a new Discovery Channel documentary to be aired in May, renowned astrophysicist Dr. Hawking suggests that with 100 billion galaxies in the universe it seems “perfectly rational” that aliens exist. While they are most probably microorganisms or basic animals, he suggests the threat posed by intelligent life forms, if they exist, could make reaching out to them “a little too risky.”

IN PICTURES: Famous Aliens

“We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach,” he said. “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the native Americans.”

Among many astronomers and scientists, however, Hawking's conclusion seems sensational and counterproductive. Hollywood and science fiction novelists have been wrestling with this "friend or foe" question for decades. But the technology used to detect new planets – and thus our ability to find alien life – has increased in recent years and will likely continue to make drastic improvements in the next five to 10 years.

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.”

A new planet found every day

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.