Brian Cox: BBC feared aliens might breach editorial guidelines

Stargazing Live presenter claims Beeb thought discovery of intelligent life elsewhere would be a compliance risk

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Brian Cox: BBC feared aliens might breach editorial guidelines
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How amazing would it be if the BBC's astronomy programme Stargazing Live not only discovered a new planet, as it did earlier this year, but received a signal from intelligent beings who live there? According to one of the show's hosts, physicist Brian Cox, if this did happen the Corporation would be worried that the aliens might swear or breach editorial guidelines, live on air.

"Last year when we discovered Threapleton Holmes B," Cox told Shaun Keaveny's BBC 6 Music breakfast show, "we decided to point the Jodrell Bank telescope at it and listen. No one had ever pointed a radio telescope at it. You never know! You never know.

"The BBC actually said: you can't do that. We need to go through the regulations and health and safety and everything in case we discover a signal from an alien civilisation."

Cox went on: "[I said], you mean we would discover the first hint that there is other intelligent life in the universe beyond Earth, live on air, and you're worried about the health and safety of it?!

"It was incredible. They did have guidelines. Compliance!"

The segment of the show did, however, go ahead despite the Beeb's concerns. Threapleton Holmes B remained silent.

Cox also reported a second instance of his BBC bosses perhaps not grasping the magnitude of a possible discovery of alien life. "We were thinking of doing something about Mars. There are lots of maps of Mars and lots of things people can do that computers can't. We were thinking of looking for signs of geological activity which might point to life on Mars.

"Someone from the BBC said to me, would there have to be a prize if someone discovered it? [I said], what do you mean? You're going to say to someone: you discovered the first evidence for alien life beyond Earth – and here's a book voucher as well? You think that's going to make it better? Nectar points?"

Nectar has since announced that it is "offering 10 million Nectar points to the first person who can prove to have discovered evidence of sentient alien life beyond Earth". The deadline for claiming the prize is 31 August 2013.

A third series of Stargazing Live, presented by Brian Cox and Dara O Briain, will air on BBC2 in January.