Lord Martin Rees, the Queen's astronomer

Lord Martin Rees, the Queen’s astronomer

Martin Rees became Sir Martin Rees when he was knighted in 1992. In 1995, he became the Astronomer Royal – the British Queen’s astronomer – just like Sir Edmund Halley, after whom the comet was named. An asteroid rather than a comet is named after Rees. He became a Lord in 2005. He was President of that gathering of the leading scientists in the world, the Royal Society, from 2005 to 2010. He has won a string of awards such as the Albert Einstein World Award of Science. Days ago, he declared that the chance of discovering alien life was growing, and the event could well come to pass within 40 years.

Rees says this will be due to advances in astronomy which will allow astrophysicists to view planets outside of our solar system by 2025. He said that only within the last decade has it become known that stars are orbited by “retinues of planets” just like dear old Sol, and within 10 or 20 years it will be possible to view other planets similar to Earth. The chance of finding alien life is, he said, already “better than ever.” He added that finding alien life will be crucial within the forthcoming four decades.

Rees was speaking as guest of honor at a debate related to Professor Stephen Hawking’s new television show, Grand Design. The show is based on Hawking’s book of the same name. The series is sure to create controversy, as Hawking has previously said that the idea of heaven is a “fairy tale” and that science can explain the universe with no need for a bearded guy in the sky.

Rees conceded that some scientific challenges might be “beyond human brains,” in the same way that chimpanzees could not understand quantum theory. At the Royal Society’s conference entitled, The Detection of Extra-terrestrial Life and the Consequences for Science and Society, Rees also said that aliens could be “staring us in the face,” but in a form humans do not recognize, because aliens are expected to have something approaching human mathematics and technology.

Dr. Frank Drake, founder of the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence and billed by the Daily Telegraph newspaper as “the world’s leading ‘ET hunter’,” cautioned that digital technology was making humanity less visible to aliens by reducing the transmission of television and radio signals into space. Signals have spread sufficiently far to reach nearby star systems, but are becoming less common.

The Queen's astronomer said alien life could very well be discovered within 40 years, unless technology takes a wrong turn.

The Queen’s astronomer said alien life could very well be discovered within 40 years, unless technology takes a wrong turn.

Anyone wishing to believe that Rees is a sound guy whose every utterance can be trusted may wish to bear in mind that he also believes the human race has only a 50 percent change of surviving another century. He wrote this in his 2003 book, The Final Century.

The human race came close to annihilation during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, and now terrorists could make nuclear weapons. Terrorists might also obtain biological or chemical materials which could be weaponized: a BBC report said that it was possible to download instructions for making sarin nerve gas over the internet, and the ingredients can be purchased over the counter. Technological advances could have unforeseen results, with Prince Charles warning that nanotechnology might transform the entire biosphere into “grey goo.” Supercomputers could take over, as one did in the Terminator films. There’s also global warming. And asteroids, Bruce Willis permitting. And massive volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Or a particle accelerator could go amiss and create a black hole. Rees said he had placed a thousand-dollar bet that a million people will die from a terrorist or ecological catastrophe in the next 20 years, and he does not expect to lose his money.

Rees stated that people might have to accept hugely-increased and intrusive surveillance to help stave off these threats, and so could be an agent of the Illuminati. He did at least say that perhaps the title of his book should have had a question mark at the end.