While at breakfast with my friend earlier this week, our conversation quickly turned extraterrestrial. Blame the recent blow up in the news about the bizarre missile sightings in Los Angeles and Houston, or maybe the endless “X-Files” memes and screenshots that douse our Tumblr dashboards — but, in general, aliens and space travel are brought up pretty much daily. This time, however, there was an added level of gravity to the typically-silly subject.
“Think about it. What if aliens actually did land on Earth? Like… What do we do? Are humans ready for that?” We asked each other, eyes bugging out and images of aliens chilling poolside with us flipping through our minds.
With these pop culture references in a way normalizing the existence of life outside of Earth, most of us have become so entertained by the fantasy of an invasion, even forgetting just how scary the actualization of that hypothetical would be.
Alien fixation is not a recent pop culture phenomenon. Mankind is peppered with documentation of strange UFO sightings (taking the acronym of “unidentified flying object” in its most literal context). There’s Roman writer Julius Obsequens’s description of “burning globes” and “round shields” in A.D. 393, the flying “fire-breathing dragons” in China A.D. 747; let’s not even get started on all of the Stonehenge, Great Pyramid and Easter Island Head conspiracies. Point being, there’s an entire human history of weird shit in the sky and people marveling at them with skepticism.
And now, it goes beyond the realm of ancient sightings — astrophysics has hopped on board the “are aliens real?” bandwagon. Frank Drake developed an equation in 1961 that puts, in numerical terms, the estimation of communicative extraterrestrial life in the Milky Way. It measures the number of planets with detectable signs of life, the number of stars observed, the fraction of stars that are quiet, the fraction of stars with rocky planets in the habitable zone, the fraction of those planets that can be observed, the fraction that have life, and the fraction on which life forms reveal their existence by sending signals into space. Taking into account just how massive the Milky Way is, the question turns from “will we come into contact with aliens?” to “how have we not contacted any yet?”
We playfully raise our eyebrows at “missiles” on a Saturday night and tune in every episode to ridicule the pseudoscience behind “Ancient Aliens,” transforming aliens into an aesthetically-pleasing facet of pop culture. And yet, it’s also so terrifying to think about them being real. Is this assimilation of aliens just an example of trying to quell our fears of the unknown, or a way of being in denial of how real they just could be? All I know is, our real fear should be the lizard people that live in the earth’s core.