We'll probably have a close encounter with Aliens this century

It’s a scientific prediction that will get dollar signs pinging in Steven Spielberg’s eyes: We could make contact with aliens in less than 100 years. But according to one of our leading physicists, it is a matter for governments – rather than Hollywood – who should start preparing for our first extra-terrestrial encounter now.

Speaking at the Euroscience Open Forum conference in Dublin, Jocelyn Bell Burnell said: ‘I do suspect we are going to get signs of life elsewhere, maybe even intelligent life, within the next century. How well prepared are we? Have we thought of how we approach them? Should we put them in a zoo, eat them, send in GIs to bring them democracy?’

She said we are most likely to find alien life where we find rocky planets with carbon dioxide and ozone in the atmospheres. The Oxford University professor said: ‘If we do suspect there is intelligent life out there, are we going to make ourselves known to them or not? ‘There are interesting questions about who you would tell first – the Press, the Prime Minister, the Pope? We should start thinking now.’

However, she said that even if we do find signs of alien life, it is likely to take decades to talk to them from Earth via radio or lasers. Professor Bell Burnell said: ‘Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. So you are probably talking of conversations that could take 50 or 100 years, just one way.’

Previous research has found almost half of Britons believe in little green men. The poll of more than 2,000 men and women for the Royal Society found that 44 per cent are of the opinion extra-terrestrial life exists and more than a third of those questioned said we should be actively searching and trying to make contact with ET.

Worrying: Stephen Hawking has warned that aliens may plunder Earth for its resources

Scientists are divided about whether we should be advertising our presence to inhabitants of other planets.

Some say that if we alert hostile aliens to our existence we risk an invasion that could lead to the end of life on Earth. They argue that if ET has the technology to cross space to reach us any defences we have will be all but useless.

And Stephen Hawking has warned that aliens may plunder Earth for its resources.

Advocating that we do everything we can to avoid contact, he said: ‘We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.

‘If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.’