Marc Kaufman discusses the attention paid by a recent Vatican council to the possibility of life beyond Earth:

The Vatican’s five-day conference is chaired by the religious leader of the highly regarded Academy, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo. Scientists (many of them nonbelievers) are offering presentations on subjects as varied as how life might have begun on Earth; what newly found “extremophile” microbes living in harsh places on our planet might tell us about possible life on others; and how life forms might be detected in our solar system, or how their bio-signatures might be found on and around the many distant exoplanets.

Having overcome the giggle factor of most things extraterrestrial, astrobiologists are telling a scientific story to an audience that may someday use it to defend—or enhance—its faith.

The Catholic Church isn’t the only institution preparing itself for what could be a world-changing event. For instance, NASA’s National Astrobiology Institute, established in 1998, sponsored a meeting of scientists, ethicists, religious leaders and philosophers in February to brainstorm about the societal implications of astrobiology, and it is preparing a semiofficial “road map” of sensitive issues we’d need to address should the presence of life elsewhere be established.

Read the full article here.