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Chance of space life growing
Chance of space life growing

As news comes that the Curiosity rover has drilled a hole in Mars searching for signs of life, programs such as Stargazing become more relevant to us all.

Space is the new frontier for exploration and finding life on another planet seems increasingly possible.

A new series of the British show begins on BBC Knowledge this week and presenter Brian Cox made a bold prediction in Australia last year.

"We may discover life on a distant planet before we discover life on Mars," he said. "Remarkably, we are discovering planets around countless stars.

"One of the things we have done on Stargazing is to assess the data from a satellite which is measuring planets crossing the face of a star. Stars dim as the planet goes across. Computers are not very good at detecting this, people can do it better, so we encouraged people to look at the data and some viewers of Stargazing found a new planet."

"We are starting to look for oxygen in the atmosphere of these planets and if you find oxygen then you are probably going to find photosynthesis."

The three shows that make up this season of Stargazing will be broadcast from the control room of the Jodrell Bank radio observatory in Cheshire. They are presented by Professor Cox, a renowned particle physicist, presenter Dara O Briain and BBC astronomer Mark Thompson. Themes for the episodes will be Mars, Earth and The Big Bang.

But if Curiosity does find signs of life, the other question will be whether it developed separately from that on Earth.

"It would change our view of our place in the universe completely if we could find life on Mars and it had emerged separately," Professor Cox said. He said one of the reasons for making such programs as Stargazing was that it encouraged people to look up at the stars. But now, instead of looking at a sky full of points of light, they might be looking at a sky full of worlds.