Mazlan Othman as U.N. space alien ambassador is sci-fi

a galaxy harbors millions of planets that could harbor extraterrestrial life

A hoax about Mazlan Othman's appointment as U.N. ambassador to greet aliens visiting Earth spread like wildfire on Sunday. Image: CC

News that the United Nations is poised to appoint an alien ambassador spread like wildfire over the Internet Sunday. Mazlan Othman, a Malaysian astrophysicist, head of the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs, was reportedly in line for the job. Othman is on the record saying that, should it happen, humans need a coordinated response to alien visitors. Rapidly increasing discoveries of planets outside the solar system make the possibility of alien contact less outrageous than in the recent past. The debate about extraterrestrial life even has Stephan Hawking warning Earth to be wary. But the alien ambassador story turned out to be nothing but the latest Web-spawned wildfire, when Othman doused the flames with a denial via e-mail to a British newspaper.

U.N. to coordinate humanity’s response to aliens?

The story that Mazlan Othman would be appointed the U.N. alien ambassador “broke” in the Sunday Times and spread like a super bug around the world. The Sunday Times quoted Othman from a speech at a recent seminar in which she talked about the search for alien transmissions from space. Othman said Earth should have a coordinated response and that the U.N. would be the best organization for the job. Newspapers like the Australian took the bait, mentioning that Othman would be talking more about imminent contact with aliens at a scientific conference sponsored by the Royal Society in Britain next week.

The search for extraterrestrial life

The first extrasolar planet, or exoplanet, was confirmed to exist in 1992. The Kepler Mission, a NASA space observatory launched in 2009, has identified hundreds of possible exoplanets. As the odds seem more likely that intelligent alien life may exist, British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking sounded a warning last spring. In an interview with the Sunday Times, Hawking said that instead of seeking the aliens out, humanity should be trying to avoid getting noticed. Aliens would most likely be looking for planets to exploit for their resources. He also said we need only to look in the mirror to imagine the consequences. “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.”

Alien ambassador falls to Earth

The U.N. alien ambassador story was brought down to Earth by Othman herself. Rather than jump on the bandwagon, the Guardian decided to actually check the facts. The British newspaper called the Royal Society to ask about Othman’s upcoming speech on alien contact. No one there knew anything about it. The U.N. referred all inquiries about the Office for Outer Space Affairs to an unresponsive switchboard in Vienna. Finally, Othman responded to a Guardian e-mail and burst the U.N. alien ambassador bubble. She wrote “It sounds really cool, but I have to deny it.” Her speech to the Royal Society next week will be about how Earth will deal with a problem that actually exists, a possible collision with near-earth objects.

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