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The news item causing a stir in the scientific blogosphere this week is Stephen Hawking’s warning about the possibility of hostile alien civilisations. The highly-respected cosmologist’s comments were made in a new documentary series which he is hosting, Into the Universe, airing on Discovery:

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 colonise whatever planets they can reach.”

…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.

(Just to be clear, Hawking doesn’t count UFO sightings as evidence of alien contact – because, he says, they are only ever seen by “cranks and weirdos“.)

Here’s the opening 10 minutes from the episode in question:

Hawking’s comments were discussed on Bad Astronomy, Centauri Dreams and Pharyngula, and both Paul Davies and Jill Tarter explained why they disagreed with Hawking’s take on contact with aliens. The latter wrote:

Such an advanced technology might well send explorers whose size and shape we cannot yet imagine to study and examine the diversity of life that evolved elsewhere — and rather than exploiting us, they might value and support the natural biodiversity of the galaxy.

…At SETI, our current mission isn’t to broadcast, but rather to listen to the universe and see what else might be out there. If signals are detected, everyone on the planet should have a voice in deciding how to respond.

What do you think? Are aliens out there, and are they dangerous? You can also add your opinion via our latest poll (which is currently suggesting that many readers obviously disagree with Hawking about aliens having not visited Earth yet).