Brian Cox discusses evidence of life on Mars

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Prof. Cox made the remarks during an appearance on the The Chris Moyles Show on Radio X this morning. A listener asked him: “Are there any bonkers alien conspiracy theories that you think actually might be plausible?” The University of Manchester-affiliated physicist replied: “That’s a good question … so we’re looking for aliens on the surface of Mars now, as we speak.”

Prof. Cox continued: “There’s a rover called Perseverance, which is on an ancient river delta — in what we know is an ancient lake.

“It’s drilling down as we speak now to take samples to try and find evidence that life existed there.

“Because there was water and all the things that we think are necessary for life.”

“So, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are aliens below the surface of Mars, right — Martian microbes.”

The physicist went on to explain how, during a visit to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California last month, he was able to see where they are building the Europa Clipper.

This craft, he explained, is “going to launch to Jupiter’s moon Europa.

“That’s a frozen moon about the same size as our Moon, but it’s ice — the whole surface is ice and below the surface there’s water, salt water, more than in all the oceans of the Earth combined.

“So, that’s a candidate for life and so we send in a spacecraft to look for life.”

The Europa Clipper — formerly known as the Europa Multiple Flyby Mission — is planned for launch in October 2024.

As its original name suggested, the craft will study Europa through a series of flybys while in orbit of Jupiter.

The craft has three main focuses — looking at the Jovian moon’s liquid water, chemistry and energy — and will study Europa’s icy shell, ocean and surface features.

The findings of the mission will help to select a target site for the future Europa Lander, which is expected to launch sometime in 2027.

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Prof Cox continued: “It’s not bonkers to suggest that life may have begun somewhere else other than Earth … we’re looking for it in the solar system.”

“But what is really a worrying observation to me, actually, is that we’ve looked a bit for radio signals, and we look out for signs of anything out there in our galaxy, intelligence, and we don’t see anything at all.”

Astronomers, he explained, have dubbed this absence “The Great Silence”.

“It’s kind of an ominous name because it seems there’s so many planets — 20 billion potentially Earth-like planets in the Milky Way — and you think there’s loads of room, there’s loads of time so there should be things out there.

“But we don’t see anything, and the explanation, probably, if indeed that’s true, is biology.”

Prof Cox concluded: “If you look at the history of life on Earth, it took nearly 4 billion years from the first cell to a civilization, which is us — that’s a third of the age of the universe.

“The best guess is that we’re so incredibly fortunate to be here.”

“[If] you say: ‘I want a planet to support an unbroken chain of life, through all this violence in the universe, for four billion years, in order to get to something like you and me.’

“I think it’s just really unlikely. And then that is terrifying and also kind of uplifting in a way, isn’t it?”

Listen to The Chris Moyles Show on Radio X, weekdays from 6:30am–10am and Saturdays 8am–11am.

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