Making contact with an alien intelligence would be a monumental event. But for the BBC, receiving an extraterrestrial signal on live TV could breach health and safety regulations, apparently.
In a humorous interview on the BBC Radio 6 Music breakfast show on Wednesday, physics superstar Prof. Brian Cox discussed his attempt to train a radio telescope on the exoplanet Threapleton Holmes B (that had been discovered through the Planet Hunters citizen science project) to eavesdrop on some hypothetical aliens. The attempt, featured on the BBC’s Stargazing Live in January — an event co-hosted by our very own Mark Thompson — worried the broadcasting corporation’s officials.
“We decided that we’d point the Jodrell Bank telescope at the planet that had been discovered by these two viewers and listen because no one had ever pointed a radio telescope at it and you never know,” said Cox. “The BBC actually said, ‘But you can’t do that because we need to go through the regulations and health and safety and everything in case we discover a signal from an alien civilization’.
“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.”
In the BBC’s defense, co-host comedian Dara O’Briain joked that Cox was applying some “comedic license”, adding: “Actually not banned. We still did it live on-air and heard nothing, sadly.
“It’s still funny! It’s just that the BBC don’t have an ET policy. Neither did the UN. Only the Vatican did.”