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Pope's star watcher to visit Nasa and talk aliens

Unlikely to arrive in Chariot of the Gods

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The Vatican is to go head to head with Nasa over the possibility of life existing anywhere else in the Universe except Earth.

The discussion is actually likely to be rather convivial when Lynn Rothschild, astrobiologist at NASA's Ames Research Center, debates the topic with the Vatican Observatory's director emeritus George Coyne at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco next week. The chat is happening under the florid banner of Are We Alone? The Dance of the Fertile Universe.

With a title like astrobiologist, one has to assume that Rothschild is at least open to the idea of life on other planets. The agency has been in on the search for extraterrestrial intelligent life since the 1960s. More prosaicly Nasa's missions as a rule keep a look out for life - or at least the building blocks of life - while tearing around the solar system.

The Catholic Church, perhaps surprisingly, is also somewhat open to the idea of life on other planets, with the current head of the Vatican observatory, José Gabriel Funes, conceding the possibility of extra-terrestrial life just last May.

He told the Holy See's in-house rag: "It is possible, even if until now, we have no proof. But certainly in such a big universe this hypothesis cannot be excluded."

Of course, the Church's interest in aliens is as much about their relationship with God and sin. It may be that they are in full communion with the creator - having never nibbled any solar forbidden fruit.

Alternatively - and perhaps much more likely - they could be sinners, and therefore in need of redemption through the ministrations of the Church. Just like us, in fact. Assuming of course they don't all come and eat us first.

Whether the conversation will stray into the likelihood of ET needing redemption is not guaranteed, and it's probably a fair bet neither party will endorse the idea that humans picked up the building blocks of technology from visiting aliens, who will stage a second coming at some point. Which is a pity.

The lecture itself will take place at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley on February 19, at 6.30pm. Tickets will cost $10 for Commonwealth Club members and $15 for non-members. More information here. ®

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