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What happens when aliens come to Glasgow? We're ready...

ACCORDING to 1990s cult science fiction series The X-Files, "the truth is out there".

But had agents Mulder and Scully been seeking evidence of alien life forms in Scotland's largest city via Freedom of Information legislation, the best they could have hoped for is a polite, if thorough, response.

Among the often bizarre requests for information held by Glasgow City Council, one recent stand-out is an application for the provisions the authority has in place for "first contact with an extra-terrestrial species".

The request, from an unnamed member of the public last month, asked: "As mankind continues to advance and head out into the stars we are undoubtedly going to attract the attention of whatever lifeforms are out there. I'm curious to know what provisions have been put in place for our inevitable encounter."

But rather than giving the request short shrift, not least because it does not hold the details, the council's head of information governance has gone beyond the call of duty, furnishing the inquirer with details on international protocol through to the welcome Glasgow would lay on in the event of a close encounter.

And if Glasgow were to welcome ET, one of the most likely destinations for first contact would be a city secondary school.

Responding to the request, Dr Kenneth Meechan said that while the "legal framework regarding making contact with extraterrestrial lifeforms is not entirely clear", the first place to look was the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which the council would see itself "morally bound to", as the UK is one of the signatory states.

But as the Treaty itself is "silent on the question of making contact with extraterrestrials", Glasgow's civic authorities, "in the unlikely event that it first detects signals from intelligent extraterrestrial life", fall back on the protocols set down by the California-based SETI Committee of the International Academy of Astronautics.

According to Mr Meechan, the city council could also have to comply with the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, where it is classed as a Category 1 responder, meaning it is obliged to draw up plans for dealing with emergencies and other major events.

However, "the Government has not included alien contact in its list of mandatory risks to be assessed, and the council has not identified this as likely to happen within the next five years".

But Mr Meechan said the council did reconsider the likelihood of it making contact with aliens, before providing various reasons why it is unlikely that it will be the authority which makes the breakthrough in alien contact.

He said: "The general consensus in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence community is that contact is most likely to be made through radio communication, since faster-than-light travel remains in the realms of fiction and it would take an improbably long time to travel between the stars at sub-light speed.

"The council does not own or control any radio telescopes, so we do not expect to pick up any signals from space.

"One of our secondary schools has a large aerial of unknown providence, but if this is capable of acting as a radio telescope, we are not presently using it.

"If, contrary to this expectation, first contact is through a landing on earth, we note that Glasgow covers around 0.008% of the world's population and 0.00003% of the total surface of the earth/0.00012% of the land area.

"On a purely statistical basis, we therefore consider it unlikely that aliens, should they land on earth in the next five years, will initially land in Glasgow."

It concludes: "Glasgow is of course a vibrant and exciting city for visitors and has been awarded any number of accolades by national and international travel guides. We are sure that any (non-hostile) alien visitors would want to include Glasgow in their list of places to visit, and we can assure them of a warm and peaceful welcome."

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