Here's what happens if intelligent life is discovered in space

In 1989, the International Academy of Astronautics adopted its SETI Post-Detection Protocols, a set of guidelines for how to proceed once intelligent life is discovered among the stars. SETI researchers hope that one day soon, they’ll have a chance to use them.

Later this month, the 100-Year Starship Project (100YSS), a NASA-funded initiative dedicated to achieving interstellar travel within the next century, will discuss the lessons to be learned from the 1997 incident during its annual symposium, this year with the theme “Finding Earth 2.0.”

Since the first exoplanet was identified in 1992, astronomers have confirmed the existence of nearly 1,900 planets beyond our solar system. The sheer number of planets increases the statistical probability that Earth-like planets will be found. Some estimate that there are around 140 habitable planets in our stellar neighborhood within 33.6 light years of Earth. Many astronomers estimate that we’ll find a life-bearing planet within 25 to 30 years, or maybe tonight, if we know what to look for.