NASA scientists are getting closer to determining whether there is life on other planets -- and the enthusiasm about aliens has spread to the Vatican.
Nasa's Kepler mission announced last month that it had discovered an Earth-like planet in a solar system light years away that may have all the conditions necessary for the existence of intelligent beings.
News about the planet, which NASA is calling Kepler-452b, has "thrilled" researchers at the Vatican Observatory, a branch of the papacy that has been studying the stars since 1582, according to Agence France-Presse.
The Rev. José Gabriel Funes, an astronomer who directs the observatory, said he's open to the possibility of extraterrestrial life and has been for quite some time. Funes finds no contradiction between Catholic theology and the belief in aliens. He has said in the past that humans shouldn't put limits on God's creative freedom.
However, Funes draws the line at the idea of an alien Jesus.
"The discovery of intelligent life does not mean there's another Jesus," Funes told AFP. "The incarnation of the son of God is a unique event in the history of humanity, of the universe."
Funes said he also doubts whether humans will "ever meet a Mr. Spock."
Funes is likely right about that. Kepler-452b is 1,400 light years from Earth. According to NBC, it would take a space probe constructed with with current technology about 28 million years to reach the planet.
The Catholic Church hasn't shied away from confronting theories about extraterrestrial life. According to The Independent, the Vatican uses the example of the early Christians baptizing gentiles as an example of how the church would treat aliens.
Pope Francis last year took up the subject himself, saying that he'd baptize Martians, if they were willing.
If -- for example -- tomorrow an expedition of Martians came, and some of them came to us, here... Martians, right? Green, with that long nose and big ears, just like children paint them... And one says, "But I want to be baptized!" What would happen? . . .Who are we to close doors?
Guy Consolmagno, the president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation, said he often gets emails from the public about aliens. He's co-author of the book, Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? which seeks to answer questions about the intersection of religion and science.
Consolmagno said he's convinced that it's only a matter of time before humans discover life on other planets -- or that aliens discover us and our world of pain, injustice and disease.
There is hope, Consolmango told the Catholic News Service, that "any race advanced enough to cross the stars to visit us must also be advanced enough to show us how to overcome all those human ills."