In this 5 x 60 series for BBC Two and iPlayer, Professor Cox will take viewers on five epic journeys through our solar system to reveal the incredible events that are happening out there, right now, as revealed by our very latest space missions.
We’ll explore the volcano covered surface of Venus – whether any of its one million volcanoes are active has been an enduring mystery, but where we’ve recently seen at least one volcano the size of Mount Everest erupting. We’ll fly with NASA’s Juno probe past eruptions bursting hundreds of kilometres into space from Jupiter’s tiny moon Io. We’ll see ice crystals falling on Mars and red frost on the mountain tops of Pluto.
Professor Cox will help us understand these bizarre natural spectacles by visiting the places on Earth that shed light on the underlying physics and planetary geology. For example, in Alaska he travels to the frozen Denali mountains to understand via ‘comparative planetology’ how a similar vista of peaks, valleys and glaciers is able to exist right at the remote frozen edge of the solar system on Pluto.
At temperatures of -240 degrees Celsius – this discovery from the New Horizons spacecraft is defying everything we once thought was possible. He will also join active missions that include NASA’s first ever attempt to bring back a pristine sample from an ancient asteroid, which could tell us much about the solar system’s origin.
Professor Brian Cox says: “We are living through a golden age of exploration. As we speak, there are spacecraft in orbit around or on the surface of five of the eight planets in our solar system, and there are a host of new missions close to launch or en-route to their targets...
"The latest, the European Space Agency’s “Juice” spacecraft, was launched towards Jupiter last week. As new data cascades in, we are building an ever more accurate picture of our solar system. Rovers on Mars are exploring ancient lake beds, two new missions to Jupiter’s ice moons aim to probe their oceans for life, and the New Horizons spacecraft has forced us to contemplate biology beneath the frigid nitrogen glaciers of Pluto.
“Are we alone in the Universe? Maybe the answer will be found in our cosmic backyard. The exploration of the solar system is therefore about much more than the exploration of space - out there - beyond Earth...
"It is allowing us to paint a picture of our place in the Universe, and that picture is getting more detailed and more accurate with every bit of data returned in real time from our fleet of explorers scattered from the Sun to the edge of interstellar space.”
Solar System (w/t), a 5x60’ series for BBC Two and iPlayer, is made by BBC Studios Science Unit.