Vat­i­can skep­ti­cal about ex­trater­res­tri­als

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY ELLA IDE AND LAURE BRU­MONT

The re­cent dis­cov­ery of an Earth twin has boosted chances there is in­tel­li­gent life on other plan­ets. But while Pope Fran­cis’s te­le­scope scans the star­lit skies, the Vat­i­can is skep­ti­cal of ever meet­ing Mr. Spock.

On a leafy hill­top near the pa­pal sum­mer home of Cas­tel Gan­dolfo sits the Vat­i­can’s Ob­ser­va­tory, one of the old­est as­tro­nom­i­cal re­search in­sti­tu­tions in the world, where plan­e­tary sci­en­tists mix the study of me­te­orites and the Big Bang the­ory with the­ol­ogy.

Boast­ing a pres­ti­gious re­search cen­ter at the Univer­sity of Ari­zona in the United States, the in­sti­tute has never shied away from ask­ing whether there could be life on other plan­ets and is thrilled with the dis­cov­ery of an “Earth 2.0.”

Astronomers hunt­ing

for

a planet like ours an­nounced to huge ex­cite­ment last week that they have found the clos­est match yet, Ke­pler 452b, which is cir­cling its star at the same dis­tance as our home or­bits the sun.

Around 60 per­cent larger than Earth, it sits squarely in the “Goldilocks zone” of its star, where life could ex­ist be­cause it is nei­ther too hot nor too cold to sup­port liq­uid wa­ter, ac­cord­ing to the U. S. space agency NASA.

The dis­cov­ery “is great news,” the Ob­ser­va­tory’s Ar­gen­tine di­rec­tor Jose Funes told AFP, de­spite the fact that sci­en­tists sus­pect in­creas­ing energy from the planet’s ag­ing sun might now be heat­ing the sur­face and evap­o­rat­ing any oceans, mak­ing life dif­fi­cult.

How­ever, while “it is prob­a­ble there was life and per­haps a form of in­tel­li­gent life ... I don’t think we’ll ever meet a Mr. Spock,” he said.

The prob­lem

is

that

Ke­pler 452b is 1,400 light- years away — an im­pos­si­ble dis­tance to cover us­ing mankind’s cur­rent tech­nol­ogy.

No Je­sus 2.0

NASA may have made history this year with a Pluto fly-by, but it took nine years for its probe to get there de­spite the planet be­ing un­der six light hours away. The fastest space­ship in the so­lar sys­tem, it would take some 11 mil­lion years to reach the Earth’s cousin.

Funes, who has a de­gree in the­ol­ogy and doc­tor­ate in as­tron­omy, would not be drawn on whether the Vat­i­can would send out space mis­sion­ar­ies to con­vert alien life­forms to Chris­tian­ity if ex­tra-ter­res­trial life was found else­where.

What is clear, he says, is that while God may have cre­ated aliens and plan­ets sim­i­lar to Earth, there can be no sec­ond Je­sus.

“The dis­cov­ery of in­tel­li­gent life does not mean there’s another Je­sus,” he in­sisted, be­cause “the in­car­na­tion of the son of God is a unique event in the history of hu­man­ity, of the uni­verse.”

Neat in his black cas­sock and sur­rounded by the latest as­tro­log­i­cal publi­ca­tions, Funes, 52, says science and re­li­gion co-ex­ist per­fectly to­gether, in­sist­ing “if there was in­tel­li­gent life ( on another planet), I don’t see that as a con­tra­dic­tion with the Chris­tian faith.”

“The Bi­ble is not a sci­en­tific book. If we look for sci­en­tific re­sponses to our ques­tions in the bi­ble, we are mak­ing a mis­take,” he said.

“It an­swers great ques­tions, like ‘what is our role in the Uni­verse?’” But such an­swers can also come from ex­plor­ing the stars, he said.

“This type of re­search, the search for life in the Uni­verse, helps us to un­der­stand our­selves ... to un­der­stand our po­ten­tial, but also our lim­its.”

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