Germans believe in aliens | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 23.09.2015
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Science

Germans believe in aliens

It's not just sci-fi nerds: According to a representative survey, a lot of Germans can put their skepticism aside when it comes to creatures from outer space. Even scientists believe there could be extraterrestrial life.

Are we alone in the universe? More than half of the Germans polled in a recent survey don't think so. Market research institute YouGov asked 1,171 people whether they believed in extraterrestrials and 56 percent said yes.

More than 1,000 people asked is considered a representative number for Germany. YouGov researchers conducted the survey via an online questionnaire between September 18 and 22. Anna Schneider, senior consultant with the institute, said she was not surprised by the high number of believers.

"The reason for believing is a mix of hope and fear," Schneider told DW. "It's hard for humans to imagine that we are this special and singular in a universe whose end we don't even know, but it's also not easy to picture sharing the special status of intelligent life. So I expected an outcome of around fifty-fifty."

Life finds a way

Klaus Jäger. (Photo: Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie)

Klaus Jäger says it's only "plausible" that we're not alone

The idea that aliens or extraterrestrials could exist is not just purported by a layman's majority; it's also subject to serious scientific research.

"The formation of life in the entire cosmos, in every niche it can find, is probably a completely natural process," Klaus Jäger, astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, told DW. He pointed to the fact that simple forms of life survive even in the most barren conditions, like at the bottom of the deep sea. Why not on far-away planets?

Discoveries made by space missions support the idea that somewhere, extraterrestrials exist, according to Jäger.

"Scientific facts are pretty clearly pointing toward the existence of life outside of Earth," the astronomer and spokesman of the German Astronomical Society said. "Even in interstellar gas that floats around and among the stars in our milky way we've found organic material, which is the preliminary stage to life."

Aliens among us?

Jäger does not believe, however, that aliens are already among us, saying that finding another life-form is a possible scenario of the future.

Martin Schädler, webmaster of the German website and online community www.alien.de disagrees. He became interested in extraterrestrials roughly 20 years ago when he read a book about alien abductions and does not only believe that aliens exist, but that they have been to Earth, too.

"The universe is gigantic and it has existed for such a long time - why should we be the only living things in it?" Schädler asked. "And how likely is it really that aliens are not here on Earth, too? I believe that the universe is so big and so old that it's brimming with extraterrestrial life, that it's full of it. That no one would have made their way to us so far is very unlikely to me."

Woman filming statue of the alien from the Alien movies at an exhibition. (Photo: Hendrik Schmidt/dpa)

There's a great fascination with aliens, like at this science fiction exhibition in Leipzig, Germany

The tech-expert, who works on email encryption as a day job, told DW he thought that the high number of people who believe in aliens was partially due to the presence of astronomy in daily life. With media reporting on space-related discoveries and astronomy documentaries airing on TV, people become more aware of the sheer size of our universe, Schädler says.

From there, he believes, it's only a small step to wondering why we should be alone in it.

How Hollywood believers could be disappointed

Women seem to be doing more wondering - and doubting - than men. According to the YouGov survey, 61 percent of men, but only 51 percent of women believe in the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life.

"Maybe the underlying reason is a difference in love of adventure - or the cinematic education," Anna Schneider from YouGov said. "I think Hollywood is partly responsible for this outcome."

Spaceship in the movie Independence Day. (Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa/ Film)

If aliens ever do come to Earth, their spaceships hopefully won't wreak havoc like this one in "Independence Day"

Movies like "Alien" and "Star Wars" have an audience that is more male than female, so men could be more likely to believe in extraterrestrials, according to Schneider's theory. But astronomer Klaus Jäger emphasizes that life in space may not look like what film fans imagine it to be.

Instead of man-sized creatures arriving in impressive space ships, aliens could also be smaller - much smaller, the astronomer says. Perhaps single-cell organisms will be the first extraterrestrial life-forms to be discovered.

That would be much less exciting than meeting a friendly, talking alien like ET, but also more comfortable than discovering that we're sharing the universe with a highly intelligent hostile species à la "Independence Day," the Hollywood blockbuster in which vicious creatures from outer space try to eradicate humanity.

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