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Science and faith: a dialogue on finding life on other planets

2009-11-12

The purpose of the meeting centered around astrobiology and the possibility that life exists elsewhere in the universe.

Athena Coustenis
Observatorie de Paris-Meudon (France)

“In this week we’ve had a possibility to interact with our colleagues and try to answer questions like ‘will we find life in our solar system through space exploration or big telescopes.’ And will we get signs of biosignatures in the extra solar planets that we have 400 of them out there today.”

Rev. Jose Funes
Director, Vatican Observatory
“These planets have atmospheres that can be similar to the atmosphere on earth and have what we call ‘biomarkers’ so those elements that help to the development of life.”

Scientists believe that by comparing our own planet’s atmosphere to those of planets outside our solar system, they can get closer to understanding the possibility of life on other planets.

The participants agreed that science and faith are not incompatible and that both sides should continue working together in approaching this relatively new scientific field.

Professor Chris Impey
University of Arizona Department of Astronomy

“This dialogue and the scientists bringing that information of their research is occurring in the pope’s home. It’s occurring in the heart of the Catholic Church. That is the receptivity of the information that is really the most important thing.”

Professor Chris Impey from the University of Arizona was among the scientists involved in the weeklong meeting and said that bringing together different perspectives contributes to a positive dialogue on astrobiology.

Professor Chris Impey
University of Arizona Department of Astronomy

“What’s most important was it’s still rare to have scientists from so many different perspectives and disciplines, intensively for a week sharing their opinions. And you could see as people were getting ready to leave the meeting they were still digesting the views of other scientists.”

Scientists have not gathered any concrete proof that life exists elsewhere other than earth. In fact, they admit that it may take years before the first sign of life on another planet is detected. But through meetings like this one scientists and theologians have begun an important dialogue in understanding the young study of astrobiology.

RS/JM
WP