Depends on what you consider to be credible proof. A man in China claimed that he had a frozen alien corpse in his freezer. The martian turned out to be made of rubber. Or consider the video that’s recently surfaced of President Obama’s visit to Israel, alleging that one of his secret service agents is a shape-shifting alien. These sorts of claims are pretty easily chalked up to overactive imaginations or simple mischief, but some are harder to ignore.
Part of the challenge is deciding what would, conclusively, constitute proof. New Scientist rounded up some strong contenders; for example, the SETI project repeatedly picked up a transmission originating from the same spot, which was set to a frequency at which hydrogen (the most common element) resonates. Scientists are hoping to raise $1 billion dollars to build an immense heat-seeking telescope that could spot distant (up to 70 million light years away from earth) alien civilizations, NY Times reports. Unfortunately, nobody’s yet stepped up to foot the bill.
Canada’s former defense minister testified in Washington last month that aliens are among us. According to him, at least four species of aliens have been visiting our fair planet for millennia and some are currently making their home on Earth, including in the ranks of the U.S. government. He’s even publicly taken aim at Stephen Hawking’s claims that aliens would most likely be malevolent, arguing instead that they’ve helped advance our technology over the years.
So, that’s pretty interesting, but what’s even more fascinating was the setting of this speech—The Citizen Hearing on Disclosure. Billing itself as the “most concentrated body of evidence and testimony regarding the Extraterrestrial issue ever put into one place at one time,” the 5-day event brought together researchers, activists, and former government and military members to testify before 6 former members of the U.S. Congress.
The result? 30 hours of testimony from over 40 witnesses. Their goal? To develop a “U.N. sponsored world conference to assess the evidence for an extraterrestrial presence.” It’s reminiscent of the U.S. government’s previous foray into investigating alien visitations with Project Blue Book (spoiler alert: the project concluded that there was no real evidence, although skeptics insist it was nothing more than a distraction from nefarious ET goings-on).
What are aliens? Well, if public lore is to believed, they’re bobble-headed and sickly grey, and they ride in sleek UFO’s (preferred hangouts: near ranches and wheat fields). Countless tales of alien encounters and abductions have imparted those same reports, which can either signal attention-seeking fraud for skeptics, or proof for die-hard believers. In Britain, there’s even a helpline dedicated to people who have been abducted. Oh, to be a fly on the wall of that office.
But “alien life” encapsulates much more than that. Bernard Bates, physics professor at University of Puget Sound in Washington says that “there is no firm evidence of microbial life off the earth, let along beings capable of interstellar travel.” He adds, however, that “microbial life (or the precursors of microbial life) is very, very likely to be discovered on Mars, or [...] Europa.”
Canadian UFO sightings reached an all-time high of 1,981 last year (almost doubling the record set in 2008). Of these, only 148 couldn’t be explained (but still, 148). Almost 78% of Canadians believe in ETs, Huffington Post reports, and 55% think that aliens have visited Earth. 10% of Canucks think they’ve seen a UFO, and if you’re hoping to catch a glimpse for yourself, you can head to Winnipeg, the current UFO-spotting capital of the country. Bates points out that “UFOs do exist, but remember the ‘U’ stands for “’Unidentified.’”
There’ve been a few significant controversies that seem to point at the existence of ETs, such as the 1976 false positive obtained by the Viking Mars lander. It suggested that something in Martian soil was metabolizing nutrients (a B-movie premise, to be sure), but further investigation debunked the theory. Nevertheless, the red planet continues to fascinate. In 1996, NASA claimed to have found fossilized microbes on ALH 84001, a Martian meteor discovered in Antarctica. Follow-up investigations showed that the molecules were caused by contaminants from Earth.
The Roswell UFO incident from 1947 is perhaps the best-known example of purported cover-ups—the air force base initially claimed to have found a flying disc at a ranch nearby, then changed their tune to a weather balloon. The media had a field day, and since then alleged witnesses and former employees have reported all kinds of extraterrestrial shenanigans, including alien autopsies.
Then there’s Area 51 in Nevada, long-believed to be a base for various military cover-ups of alien life. The U.S. government plays into the mythos, by classifying all current doings as Top Secret, although we’re pretty sure it’s been used as an aircraft and missile-testing base.
In 1961, an astronomer created his eponymous Drake equation, which considered factors such as the possibility of Earth-like planets (and nearby suns), and came up with around ten thousand life-supporting planets in our galaxy alone. The number has since grown as the basic equation has been amended. But why do we have no credible proof of alien life? There’s the rub.
Enter the Fermi paradox, which highlights the contradiction between high estimates for extraterrestrial life, and our lack of hard evidence for it. Maybe it’s too expensive to travel between planets (The Vancouver Sun recently commented on this), or maybe technological civilizations die out too quickly (cue gulps for our own cosmic chances). Fermi famously asked, “Where is everybody?” Maybe the answer is on Mars, just waiting for our very own Curiosity to stumble upon it.