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Science secretary quizzed over UK search for alien life


Finding extra-terrestrial life could be “really important catalysing moment for UK science”, says government official

The UK government is taking the search for extraterrestrial life “appropriately seriously”, science secretary Michelle Donelan has revealed.

During a House of Commons science and technology hearing on 13 December, Conservative MP Stephen Metcalfe quizzed Donelan on whether the UK is searching for extra-terrestrial life in “any form”, adding: “Let’s not kid ourselves and think we are looking for little green men”.

As the question drew laughter from some other MPs in the room, Donelan said the government took the search “appropriately seriously”.

She added that to her knowledge the discovery of extra-terrestrial life is not on the risk register, which outlines the most serious threats to the country.

‘Relatively unadvanced microbial life’

A US congressional inquiry on UFOs reignited global interest in life in space over the summer. While the UK does not finance any UFO research, national funder UK Research and Innovation does support research on extra-terrestrial life. The UK Space Agency is backing missions looking at how life might have evolved on Mars.

Donelan added that she was “not surprised but intrigued” by the congressional hearing on UFOs.

A top civil servant revealed there is a “small effort” in the science department’s space team looking at how they would tell the public if scientists discovered life in space.

Sarah Munby, permanent secretary at the science department, told MPs that the “most likely scenario by far” is the discovery of extra-terrestrial life will be “relatively local, relatively unadvanced microbial life”.

“It could actually be a really important and catalysing moment for the UK science community.”