Who ever said that the United Nations doesn't plan ahead? The UN has named a director for Outer Space Affairs who, in the event of alien contact, is charged with representing humanity. If aliens demand "take me to your leader", the UN representative Mazlan Othman, a Malaysian astrophysicist, might not be the first person who comes to mind. But it's hard to think of anyone who is better qualified. For the past three years she has been leading the effort to co-ordinate the world's collection of space junk and to monitor near-earth asteroids. Before that, she established Malaysia's national planetarium.
And if she has any anxiety about meeting aliens, at least there are plenty of examples for her to emulate. She might start by watching Mars Attacks, a film produced by Tim Burton in 1996. "We come in peace," the Martians proclaim. At a ceremony celebrating their arrival, a man releases a dove into the air. The bird is promptly vaporised, along with the man, and everyone else in the welcoming committee. So begins an alien rampage.
For Mazlan Othman's sake, let's hope life doesn't imitate art. But from working at the UN, she probably knows by now not to take emissaries at their word. Like some diplomats, aliens are probably honest creatures sent abroad to lie for their planet.