When the Huygens probe landed on Titan last month, astrobiologists were realistic about what they hoped to gain from the mission. There was little or no chance that life would be found on Saturn's moon, they said, but the field would nevertheless gain vital clues about organic chemistry on worlds beyond Earth.

Those expectations may, however, become somewhat less staid in the public eye later this year, when the latest Star Wars prequel and a modern-day remake of the H.G. Wells classic, War of the Worlds, hit movie theaters. After all, these sorts of films have fed nonsense such as UFO sightings and mysterious crop circles.

But that pattern did not begin with celluloid. Mark Brake, professor of astrobiology and science communication at the University of Glamorgan in Wales, points out that the invention of sci-fi movies is the latest installment in humanity's long contemplation of whether we're...

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