Life on other planets is more likely to be bacteria than little green men, says space expert Ashley King.
In the new Channel 5 series Natural History Museum: World Of Wonder, starting tonight, he unlocks some of the secrets of his work and reveals life could exist elsewhere in the solar system.
Geologist Ashley says: “If we do find life in the solar system, it’ll be bacteria – it won’t be able to communicate with us.
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”Narrated by actor Bill Nighy, the series provides a behind-the-scenes look at the work going on behind the exhibits at London’s Natural History Museum, one of the most important in the world.
In the first episode, Ashley studies the Winchcombe Meteorite, which crashed on the driveway of a family home in Gloucestershire in February 2021 while the UK was in the middle of the Covid lockdown.
In the same episode, for the first time experts examine the jawbone of a Gorgosaurus, said to be a “cousin” of the T-Rex, and there’s also a visit to a rewilding project at the Knepp Estate in West Sussex.
Ashley says: “We have 80million samples locked away at the museum and I work on the meteorite collection.
“We’ve never found bacteria or an alien in meteorites but we have found signs life could exist.
“The Winchcombe Meteorite was the first to be recovered on Earth in 30 years so it was a dream where it landed.
“We had to get permission from the museum to go and collect it during lockdown.
“They’re very hard to find and rare for them not to be contaminated by the Earth so we were lucky to be able to collect it within 12 hours of it landing.”
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The Winchcombe Meteorite contains water similar to that on Earth.Ashley says: “Winchcombe formed near Jupiter around 4.6billion years ago.
“Our solar system was gas and dust which made asteroids which collided to form planets.
“Meteorites are the leftover building blocks for our planet.”
Ashley warns that meteorites pose a threat to life on Earth.
He says: “We think the dinosaurs went extinct because a meteorite hit the Earth – and some think that will happen again.”
The technological advances of AI are likely to help humans in our quest to get a better understanding of the solar system, Ashley believes.
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He says: “One of the biggest challenges in space is that it’s big with thousands of asteroids.
“AI might let us look at big data sets as new telescopes are looking for exoplanets.
“I can see AI helping us.
“There are lots of places in the solar system which had habitable conditions, this is why they keep sending probes to Mars.”
As Nasa’s JUpiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) goes looking at the planet and its three ocean-bearing moons and astronauts are being prepared to go to Mars, Ashley feels space travel could become easier in future.
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He says: “Asteroids contain water so we might be able to use them to make fuel.
“Samples returning from Mars are our next mission to study at the museum.
“I get travel sick so I wouldn’t want to go up to space but I’m happy I get to handle and look at meteorites from the Moon and Mars and fire lasers at them to see what minerals are in there.”
Natural History Museum: World Of Wonder is on Channel 5 at 8pm on Wednesdays from tonight.
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