How Will Humans React If We Discover Alien Life? This New Study Just Found Out (and Surprised Us)

If science fiction’s to be believed, humans are going to absolutely freak out when we first encounter extraterrestrials — we’re talking pandemonium, nothing short of out-and-out hysteria. From Independence Day to Alien, your average human in a movie doesn’t take well to meeting our newly-discovered alien neighbors, who, to be fair, are usually threatening the widespread elimination of humans in some way.

But if you talk to the average person, you might get a different picture of what a reaction to first contact might look like. Most people aren’t so alarmed. In fact, they’re pretty optimistic about what meeting aliens might mean. Most of us are like the kids in E.T., rather than the terrified adults: A reaction that’s less reflexive hostility, more peaceful curiosity.

A new study suggests that, in the event of an extraterrestrial encounter, the rioting and looting would be kept to a minimum — humans would actually react pretty positively to the news.

Michael Varnum, assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University, took several different approaches in his study, which he presented during a press briefing at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Austin, Texas.

For the first part, he and his team used a computer program to analyze the language used in news articles about discoveries that indicated the possibility of alien life. The program focused on the emotional timbre of the articles and found that the media coverage was generally positive. The researchers also made a (hypothetical) announcement that humans had detected extraterrestrial microbial life, and asked more than 500 people to offer their written responses. Again, the language the authors used was largely positive.

As for something that feels a bit more real? In the final part of the study, the researchers asked 500 people to respond to one of two articles in the New York Times about real scientific discoveries: evidence of microbial life on a Martian meteorite and the creation of synthetic life in a lab. Interestingly, participants reacted more positively to the possibility of alien life than the human capacity to create life.

“[T]aken together, this suggests if we find out we’re not alone, we’ll take the news rather well,” said Varnum in a press release.

Varnum’s studies, it should be noted, only took American perspectives into account. First contact would affect the entire human population (and probably some other types of organisms, too), and different cultures might respond to the news very differently.

Plus, it’s easy to be optimistic about something that you know hasn’t happened. Many of us are simply rosy about going to the gym, but hate it once we’re actually there (or, conversely, we hate the idea of going to the gym, but love it once we’re actually exercising). After all, we are humans, and we do tend to do a great job of tricking ourselves into looking forward to things.

If scientists have their way, the question of whether extraterrestrials exist won’t be hypothetical for long — increasingly sophisticated technology will help us detect aliens, if in fact they’re out there. Playing out possible scenarios and getting a sense for how humanity would react to such a discovery could help governments come up with better-informed policies for how to handle first contact, when and if it arises.

Ultimately, we can at least hope that humans would have an upbeat reaction to the discovery of alien life. We can test the waters, make policies, or play out different scenarios in the fictional space all we like.

But the best way to figure out how humans will react to extraterrestrials? Find the aliens. Then we’ll really get to see if humans are as upbeat as researchers predict.

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We Just Found Out Asteroids Are Flying by Earth This Week — Here’s How Worried You Should Be

Things fall from the sky. It happens. Rain, snow, sleet, and hail, maybe even birds, or the occasional clumsy squirrel. Asteroids, on the other hand — those generate some interest. Which is why when NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) reported that not one, but two small asteroids will come within a Moon’s distance of Earth this week, people took notice.

Obviously, humans are not destined to go the way of the dinosaurs before month’s end. But there are Things To Know about what’s to come. For example:

How close will these asteroids come to Earth?

Kind of. Relatively. One of the asteroids, 2018 CC (named for the year and month in which researchers discovered it), already came and went — on February 6 around 3:10 p.m. EST, it soared past about 184,000 kilometers (114,000 miles) above Earth.

The second asteroid, 2018 CB, will swing by Earth today, February 9, at approximately 5:30 p.m. EST. At its closest, it’ll be 64,000 kilometers (39,000 miles) away — just 16 percent of the distance between the Earth and the Moon, which is 384,472 kilometers (238,900 miles) away. That’s pretty darn close. Still, the asteroid is very unlikely to actually make contact with the Earth’s atmosphere, much less its surface.

How do we know that for sure?

Because the scientists at NASA are sure, and, they’re the people one should trust with this kind of thing. But if you want to know why they’re so sure, it’s because the JPL’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) monitors asteroids that come anywhere near Earth.

The organization’s Sentry Impact Monitoring System tracks and analyzes information on asteroids that could collide with the Earth. These appropriately-named “near-Earth asteroids” (NEAs) are left on Sentry’s list until an impact can be ruled out. Once the system confirms that the asteroids pose no threat, they’re removed. 2018 CB? Already removed.

An animation of asteroid 2018 CB missing Earth. Image Credit: NASA

But why did NASA only discover these asteroids four days ago?

NASA probably gets this question often, given that they address it on their Planetary Defense FAQ page. In short, it takes time to observe asteroids and comets, and the ground-based telescopes used to track them down can only be used at night and in clear skies.

Once researchers detect these near-Earth objects (NEOs), they predict their trajectories based on early observations. Establishing a good model can take anywhere from a week to a month, according to NASA’s web site. So it’s actually pretty impressive that NASA confirmed that 2018 CC and 2018 CB wouldn’t hit Earth did it even faster, within a week of spotting them.

Okay, I can relax for now. But what would we do if an asteroid was expected to hit Earth?

The government has a protocol in place to handle threats on a case-by-case basis. NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) in Washington, D.C., is responsible for detecting potentially hazardous objects (PHOs), tracking them, providing accurate and up-to-the-minute information, and coordinating with the U.S. government to plan a response to realistic threats. You can read the agency’s breakdown of a hypothetical scenario presented at the 2017 IAA Planetary Defense Conference (PDC), and you can also check out the app to see exactly what we’d need to do to deflect an asteroid.

One thing we can’t do? Shoot asteroids out of the sky as they approach Earth, according to NASA’s FAQ page: “No known weapon system could stop the mass because of the velocity at which it travels — an average of 12 miles per second.”

Will any asteroid ever hit Earth?

Unlikely. One of the few asteroids that could hit Earth is Bennu, and CNEOS predicts it won’t come close to Earth again until 2135. That approach could change Bennu’s course, putting it in a position to make impact on Earth between 2175 and 2199. There’s only a 0.037 percent chance that impact happens. In other words, there’s more than a 99 percent chance it doesn’t hit.

Still, NASA isn’t taking any chances. In September 2016, the agency launched the OSIRIS-REx mission, a probe expected to reach Bennu in 2018 and return to Earth with a sample from the asteroid in 2023. Researchers will use information gathered through that mission to update their predictions.

So, yeah, it’s true that 2018 CB is swinging by Earth today, but there’s no reason to let it ruin your Friday via fear of oncoming obliteration. Just keep looking forward to the weekend with the comfort in mind that, at the very least, an astroid impact isn’t coming, let alone, interrupt your ability to see it.

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For the First Time Ever, Scientists Found Alien Worlds in Another Galaxy

Alien Worlds

For the first time in history, astrophysicists have discovered planets beyond the Milky Way galaxy. These extragalactic planets have masses between those of the Moon and Jupiter, and they fully confirm suspicions that our galaxy isn’t the only one to house planets.

Scientists at the University of Oklahoma (OU) were responsible for the discovery of the extragalactic planets, which they detail in a study published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“We are very excited about this discovery. This is the first time anyone has discovered planets outside our galaxy,” said Xinyu Dai, professor in the Homer L. Dodge Department of Physics and Astronomy, OU College of Arts and Sciences, in a university press release.

“These small planets are the best candidate for the signature we observed in this study using the microlensing technique,” said Dai. “We analyzed the high frequency of the signature by modeling the data to determine the mass.”

Microlensing is an astronomical effect by which an object’s gravitational field bends the light from a star or quasar as it passes by it. When the object is between the Earth and that light source, this effect creates images that we can detect on Earth.

Until now, all of the objects discovered using microlensing have been within the limits of the Milky Way galaxy. The team used data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to expand this to include these extragalactic planets.

Extragalactic Exploration

Analyzing any of the planets discovered within this study would be a concrete impossibility using existing telescope technologies. As OU postdoctoral researcher Eduardo Guerras noted in the OU press release, this study reveals the potential for microlensing to expand our understanding of the universe beyond the Milky Way.

“This is an example of how powerful the techniques of analysis of extragalactic microlensing can be,” said Guerras.

The Science of Searching for Exoplanets [INFOGRAPHIC]
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“This galaxy is located 3.8 billion light-years away, and there is not the slightest chance of observing these planets directly, not even with the best telescope one can imagine in a science fiction scenario. However, we are able to study them, unveil their presence, and even have an idea of their masses.”

This solid confirmation of planets beyond our galaxy is an incredible feat, and it opens up a world of possibilities in research. The better we understand the universe, the better we understand how natural processes operate here on Earth, how our solar system formed, and why intelligent life emerged on our planet.

Because of this innovative study, scientists now have the option to look outside our galaxy for answers to these fundamental questions and more. As Guerras concisely summarized in the press release, “This is very cool science.”

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