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NASA searches for extraterrestrial life; religious believers struggle to make sense of it

Is there life on other planets? NASA says that we will one day find an answer, and that one day will be soon — within 20 years, to be exact.

According to CBS, the space agency plans to launch a new initiative in the coming weeks using telescopes to search for other forms of life, but the implications of the possible findings are unclear.

“Just imagine the moment, when we find potential signatures of life," Matt Mountain, a scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, told CBS. "Imagine the moment when the world wakes up and the human race realizes that its long loneliness in time and space may be over — the possibility we’re no longer alone in the universe."

Mountain’s proclamation isn’t far off from how many Americans feel overall. Not only do one-third of Americans believe in UFOs — which in fiction, folkore and fables are often the vehicles that carry aliens and foreign beings — but half of Americans think there is, in fact, life on other planets.

"According to the new [HuffPost/YouGov] survey, 50 percent of Americans think that there is some form of life on other planets, while only 17 percent think that there's not,” wrote Emily Swanson of The Huffington Post. "Another 33 percent said they aren't sure."

But as science continues to delve into space, questions begin to rise about how the faithful will react. Experts told Deseret News National in 2013 that religious believers would be challenged if extraterrestrial life was discovered.

Samuel Hameed, an associate professor from Hampshire College, said finding life on other planets would force believers to look inward — and though much of the universe is the creation of God, Hameed said, finding life would change the way humans look at themselves and others from a religious standpoint.

“There are more planets, that’s great, that’s all apart of God’s creation,” he said to the Deseret News. But “the discovery of life elsewhere would challenge religion. The challenge would come in if some discoveries challenged some of the centrality of human beings.”

However, others have a different outlook when it comes to religion and the cosmos.

“For the most part, it’s still not thought that religious belief has any kind of disconnect with the idea that there’s other life out there,” said Matt Stanley, a professor of astronomy at New York University, to Deseret News National. “There’s a sense that anything else than a universe beaming with life is an insult to glory of the God.”

Email: hscribner@deseretdigital.com Twitter: @herbscribner