Prof Brian Cox on alien life
A little water here, some organic compounds there, set against a bit of rock, mix in a pH gradient and voila!
Prof Brian Cox is back on our screens this week with Wonders of Life, a groundbreaking new series which explores how the laws of physics drive the natural world.When we interviewed Brian for the February issue of Focus, we couldn't resist asking him whether he thinks there might be life on other planets. Here's his response:
"Yes. People are beginning to think that we will find evidence that there was life on Mars. There is strong evidence of subsurface water there and water appears to be essential for life. We ask why that is, and it’s because it’s got some properties which are absolutely fascinating. I came to the view with the advisors on the [Wonders of Life] series that if you have the right conditions – water, some organic compounds, a bit of rock and some pH gradients – then life will appear spontaneously. So you might look at Europa, too, with its oceans and its vents."
As for intelligent life outside our Solar System, Brian isn't quite so sure. "There is a big distinction between single-celled organisms and complex life," he says. "Complex life’s development on another planet looks really unlikely, although we have got a statistical sample of one. So we don’t know. But it took a long time for it to happen on Earth."
In the meantime, we've got plenty of weird and wonderful creatures to marvel at here on Earth. During the filming of Wonders of Life, Brian was intrigued by a particularly playful octopus.
"Octopuses are ... very clever animals – their intelligence has evolved separately from ours. If you are looking for an alien intelligence, then an octopus is probably it. Octopuses mimic you, and I ended up having a little boxing match with the one we saw. I put one of my fists up and it reared up on six of its legs and put its two other legs up, copying my fists. A member of the film crew went and got a tattoo of the octopus because he got so attached to it."
James is staff writer at BBC Science Focus magazine. He especially enjoys writing about wellbeing and psychology.