Over half of the UK's population believe that intelligent life exists in the universe, according to a new study. The point of view – once considered a school of thought for the kooky – is now a mainstream belief across parts of the Western world.
Research from YouGov's survey of 1,751 British people reveals that 52% "believe that living creatures who have the ability to communicate and do not come from Earth exist". Comparatively, 56% of Germans and 54% of Americans believe the same. Only a third of people in Germany (32%) "assertively do not believe in extra-terrestrial life", although that figure is lower in Britain (28%) and the US (24%). The rest of those surveyed said they "don't know". In the UK and US, men are most likely to believe in aliens, according to the research.
The question of life beyond our planet has gripped humans for aeons and indeed, so intriguing is the phenomenon that Professor Stephen Hawking launched the biggest and most intensive venture to date earlier this year in a bid to answer the question. Speaking at the £64m ($100m) unveiling of the Breakthrough Listen project at the Royal Society in London in July, the Cambridge cosmologist said: "Somewhere in the cosmos, perhaps, intelligent life may be watching these lights of ours, aware of what they mean.
"Or do our lights wander a lifeless cosmos - unseen beacons, announcing that here, on one rock, the Universe discovered its existence. Either way, there is no bigger question. It's time to commit to finding the answer - to search for life beyond Earth. We are alive. We are intelligent. We must know."
The project is being bankrolled by Russian billionaire, Yuri Milner. The US-based founder of the initiative said: "Current technology gives us a real chance to answer one of humanity's biggest questions: Are we alone?"
Where are the aliens?
According to the YouGov study, British people who do believe in extra-terrestrial life say the most likely reason for the Fermi paradox (the apparent contradiction between the likely probability of extra-terrestrial life and the lack of evidence for such) is that "intelligent life is too far away for us to be able to contact it, and that our technology is not advanced enough for communication."
After 54 years, claims made by US couple Betty and Barney Hill that they were abducted by aliens and intimately examined on board a UFO on 19 September 1961 was given new credence after Betty drew a map closely resembling the Zeta Reticuli system in the southern constellation of Reticulum. At the time, experts said the area did not resemble any known area of space, but statistician David Saunders believes this is proof that the Hills were telling the truth about being abducted by aliens.