The other, other London conference

If you follow international affairs, you probably know that there are two important conferences in London this week — one to coordinate the NATO effort in Afghanistan, and the other to develop a strategy to combat the resurgent terrorist threat in Yemen. But there’s a third London conference occurring this week that you may have ...

LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images
LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images
LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images

If you follow international affairs, you probably know that there are two important conferences in London this week -- one to coordinate the NATO effort in Afghanistan, and the other to develop a strategy to combat the resurgent terrorist threat in Yemen. But there's a third London conference occurring this week that you may have missed, which grapples with a truly international issue: aliens.

This past Monday and Tuesday, Britain's Royal Society held a conference, which included representatives from NASA, the European Space Agency, and the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program. The scientists attending the conference set goals which were every bit as ambitious as stabilizing Afghanistan's government or solving Yemen's myriad problems: Professor Michael Mayor used his address to pledge that 2010 would be the year that astronomers would find the first Earth-like planet outside of our solar system.

The conference centered on where we might find extraterrestrial life -- and whether, much like Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner, mankind would be fully prepared for the consequences of making "first contact." Dr. Paul Davies, a physicist at Arizona State University, suggested that we may not have to look to the stars to find alien lifeforms: He has advanced the theory that aliens might exist right under our noses. Davies has suggested that, as less than 1 percent of bacteria have been studied in-depth, we may already live alongside alien microbes that do not share an earthly origin.

If you follow international affairs, you probably know that there are two important conferences in London this week — one to coordinate the NATO effort in Afghanistan, and the other to develop a strategy to combat the resurgent terrorist threat in Yemen. But there’s a third London conference occurring this week that you may have missed, which grapples with a truly international issue: aliens.

This past Monday and Tuesday, Britain’s Royal Society held a conference, which included representatives from NASA, the European Space Agency, and the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program. The scientists attending the conference set goals which were every bit as ambitious as stabilizing Afghanistan’s government or solving Yemen’s myriad problems: Professor Michael Mayor used his address to pledge that 2010 would be the year that astronomers would find the first Earth-like planet outside of our solar system.

The conference centered on where we might find extraterrestrial life — and whether, much like Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner, mankind would be fully prepared for the consequences of making "first contact." Dr. Paul Davies, a physicist at Arizona State University, suggested that we may not have to look to the stars to find alien lifeforms: He has advanced the theory that aliens might exist right under our noses. Davies has suggested that, as less than 1 percent of bacteria have been studied in-depth, we may already live alongside alien microbes that do not share an earthly origin.

In a week of conferences about war, it is good to hear that one, at least, raised the possibility of peaceful co-existence.

LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.