The United Nations was set Sunday to appoint an obscure Malaysian astrophysicist to act as Earth's first contact for any aliens that may come visiting.
Mazlan Othman, the head of the U.N.'s little-known Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa), will describe her potential new role next week at a scientific conference at the Royal Society's Kavli conference center in Buckinghamshire.
She will tell delegates that the recent discovery of hundreds of planets around other stars has made the detection of extraterrestrial life more likely than ever before -- and that means the U.N. must be ready to coordinate humanity's response to any "first contact."
During a talk Othman gave recently to fellow scientists, she said: "The continued search for extraterrestrial communication, by several entities, sustains the hope that some day humankind will receive signals from extraterrestrials.
"When we do, we should have in place a coordinated response that takes into account all the sensitivities related to the subject. The U.N. is a ready-made mechanism for such coordination."
Professor Richard Crowther, an expert in space law and governance at the U.K. Space Agency and who leads British delegations to the U.N. on such matters, said: "Othman is absolutely the nearest thing we have to a 'take me to your leader' person."
However, he thinks humanity's first encounter with any intelligent aliens is more likely to be via radio or light signals from a distant planet than by beings arriving on Earth. And, he suggests, even if we do encounter aliens in the flesh, they are more likely to be microbes than anything intelligent.