As a child I often stared up at the stars wondering about what was going on up there. My parents had a summer house on the south shore of Long Island, and at night sitting on the beach, I could see more stars than I ever knew were possibly there back at home in New York City. As they glistened in the night, instead of wishing on one, I hoped to visit one in the future, no doubt encouraged by my love of the television series Star Trek, with its depiction of a world of warp speed, easy planet hopping, and most friendly aliens wanting to form a federation of planets.
Now British scientist Stephen Hawking, featured in a new series Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking on the Discovery Channel, is warning us that we should not be too eager for close encounters with aliens from other worlds. He says, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.”
Hawking goes on to describe alien beings who would be “nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.” No doubt leaving their own dying planets, these space explorers would not be like the sweetly depicted E.T. from the famous Spielberg film, but probably a lot more like the ones we have come to know in films like Predator or Alien. These are not guys we would invite to the family picnic.
Which brings us back to my naïve childhood fantasy of wanting to reach out to those stars I saw twinkling above me. Is the dream of a peaceable universe so far-fetched? Perhaps as inconceivable as a peaceful world right here on Earth?
Some people may argue that there is no proof that aliens even exist. How can we be so certain that they are out there somewhere? Well, I remember watching the stars with my father when I was a boy. He told me that every star was a sun, and so that means they probably have planets just like our sun does.