The United Nations (UN) should prepare a course of action, just in case the Earth should ever be contacted by extraterrestrials, scientists say in a new, extraterrestrial focused edition of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.
The special issue, according to Guardian Science Correspondent Alok Jha, focuses on "all aspects of the search for extraterrestrial life, from astronomy and biology to the political and religious fallout that would result from alien contact."
The issue is currently available online and is dated February 13, 2011.
In one article, Professor John Zarnecki of the Open University and Dr Martin Dominik of the University of St. Andrews say that "a lack of co-ordination can be avoided by creating an overarching framework in a truly global effort governed by an international politically legitimated body." The UN's Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) is ready made for the task, they argue.
According to the organization's official website, COPUOS was established by the UN General Assembly in 1959 in order to "review the scope of international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space, to devise programs in this field to be undertaken under United Nations auspices, to encourage continued research and the dissemination of information on outer space matters, and to study legal problems arising from the exploration of outer space."
In their paper, Zarnecki and Dominik assert that COPUOS member states should begin focusing on potential extraterrestrial affairs as well, following a format similar to their subcommittees already focused on dealing with threats from asteroids and outer space objects, according to Jha.
Other studies included in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A include a paper by Cambridge University Evolutionary Paleobiology Professor Simon Conway Morris advising those preparing for alien contact to prepare for a species that shares human-like tendencies "towards violence and exploitation," and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary Professor Ted Peter reflecting upon the impact of extraterrestrial contact on the world's religions.
"Because our religious traditions formulated their key beliefs within an ancient world view now out of date, would shocking new knowledge dislodge our pre-modern dogmas? Are religious believers Earth-centric, so that contact with ET would de-centre and marginalize our sense of self-importance?" Peters, a professor of systematic theology, wrote, according to the Guardian.
"Do our traditional religions rank us human beings on top of life's hierarchy, so if we meet ETI who are smarter than us will we lose our superior rank? If we are created in God's image, as the biblical traditions teach, will we have to share that divine image with our new neighbors?" he adds, noting that he believed traditional theologians would evolve into "astrotheologians" and that "contact with extraterrestrial intelligence will expand the existing religious vision that all of creation… is the gift of a loving and gracious God."