In Brief
In a newly released short film, Stephen Hawking weighs in on the topic of making contact with alien life. While the physicist notes that he believes we are not alone in the universe, he cautions that making contact with extraterrestrial life could prove devastating for humanity.

They are out there…aren’t they?

The universe is huge. That is probably the biggest understatement of the century. In fact, the universe is too huge for our minds to truly grasp its size. Likewise, this vastness of the universe — both known and unknown — makes a strong case for the probability of extraterrestrial life.

In terms of the number of potentially habitable exoplanets, records show that there are around 44 of them. This assumes that alien life needs the same kind of environment that we do to survive. If it doesn’t, the number of potential planets with alien life is even greater.

While some think the above information leads directly to the question “Can we make contact with alien life?” in a newly released 25-minute online film, noted physicist Stephen Hawking instead asks if we should make contact.

Hawking's CGI spaceship. Credit: Stephen Hawking's Favorite Places, screenshot
Hawking’s CGI spaceship. Credit: Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places, screenshot

Friendly or not-so-friendly?

If extraterrestrial life is out there, how eager should we be for those beings to contact us? Stephen Hawking weighs in on the topic in “Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places,” a video on the platform CuriosityStream. Echoing his previous statements, Hawking notes that, although he believes there is alien life in the universe, we shouldn’t be too eager to make contact.

“One day we might receive a signal from a planet like Gliese 832c, but we should be wary of answering back,” Hawking says in the film. He believes that aliens may belong to a civilization much more advanced than ours, and the results of contact may turn out to be the same as the Native Americans’ first encounter with Christopher Columbus, a situation in which things “didn’t turn out so well” for the former civilization.

While Hawking posits that advanced alien life could be “vastly more powerful and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria,” this belief has not stopped him from supporting and dedicating his life to projects like Breakthrough Listen, a $100 million search for life beyond Earth’s solar system.

Whatever the case may be, one thing is certain: a close encounter with another kind — be they more advanced, primitive, or our equal — is bound to change, well, everything! It will make us reexamine how we see ourselves and our place in the universe, so we should think very carefully about any interactions with extraterrestrial life, however tempting it may be to make contact.