How should evidence of alien life be disclosed ? Image Credit: CC BY 3.0 John Masterson, CSIRO
The space agency wants the world to agree on the best way to reveal that alien life has been found.
Given the lack of a worldwide authority on all matters pertaining to the hunt for extraterrestrial life, it is currently unclear who would be responsible for announcing such a discovery or what they would say.
It would certainly be a monumental revelation - an answer to one of mankind's most enduring philosophical questions and something that could have serious repercussions for our society.
But there is also another possibility - the discovery of evidence that, while pointing to the likelihood of the existence of alien life, might not be immediately conclusive, with further confirmation taking years or even decades to obtain.
In such a circumstance, it would be important to establish exactly how to announce said evidence without jumping to conclusions and without misleading people.
To this end, NASA scientists are now calling on the global community to establish a clear set of guidelines for announcing such evidence should it be found in the not-too-distant future.
"Our generation could realistically be the one to discover evidence of life beyond Earth," the authors of a new study on the subject wrote. "With this privileged potential comes responsibility."
"The magnitude of the question of whether we are alone in the universe, and the public interest therein, opens the possibility that results may be taken to imply more than the observations support, or than the observers intend."
To address this, they argue, there should be a clearly established set of "objective standards" for defining evidence of alien life, in addition to "best practices" for revealing it to the public.
The key would be to avoid sensationalizing the discovery and to stick to the known facts.
Even the slightest hint of such a find could have a profound impact