6 Minute English
Life on Mars
Episode 160303 / 03 Mar 2016
Neil and Sophie discuss Mars. The fourth rock from the Sun is one of our nearest neighbours in space and for centuries there has been debate about whether there is life on the red planet.
This week's question
How long is a day on Mars? Is it about …
a) 5 hours?
b) 25 hours?
c) 45 hours?
You can hear the right answer at the end of the programme.
the naked eye
(seen) without using instruments
something you want that's almost, but not quite, within reach
things that live in very extreme environments and can survive conditions that would kill most other living things
small living things
energy from heat or light
stop something from working normally
a piece of rock from outer space
(in this context) developed
Note: This is not a word-for-word transcript
Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I'm Sophie…
And I'm Neil. Sophie – did you see the beautiful sky last night?
No, I went to bed early. Why?
I was wondering if there was life out there.
You mean life on other planets? That's just science fiction, Neil.
It isn't! People are fascinated by life on other planets for a good reason.
You believe in little green men?
Not necessarily… but possibly.
Well, Mars is our closest neighbour in the solar system and the subject of today's show. And that brings me on to our usual quiz question. How long is a day on Mars? Is it about…
a) 5 hours?
b) 25 hours?
Or c) 45 hours?
And I think it must be c) 45 hours. Things are weird on other planets. And Mars is further from the sun than us… Mars may be our closest neighbour, but it's hardly in our backyard, is it?
It is in astronomical terms, Neil – it's visible to the naked eye – meaning without using instruments – and it's reachable by spacecraft. Well, we’ll find out later on in the show whether you got the answer right or not. Now can you tell me Neil why people like you get excited about the possibility of life on Mars?
Well, Mars is similar to the Earth in some important ways which means if life developed on our planet, why not Mars?
That's true. Its temperature is in the right zone – not too hot and not too cold. But actually we could find Mars pretty cold – an average temperature would be around minus 63 degrees Celsius compared to Earth's 14 degrees Celsius. It's also very arid – or dry.
And it needs to be wet for life to develop, doesn't it?
That's right. Many scientists think that liquid water is essential for life! But there may have been water on the surface of Mars in the past. And recent research suggests that there may be water underground. Let's hear some more about this from Professor John Zarnecki, who teaches Space Science at The Open University.
John Zarnecki, Professor of Space Science, The Open University
We are now seeing that in fact Mars probably does have water – not liquid water – that there is ice just below the surface and there's even just recently tantalizing evidence that perhaps water does flow periodically... Now, and also coupled with the fact that here on Earth we're finding that life in very primitive form exists in the most extreme environments, these are the so called 'extremophiles' that exist at the bottom of the oceans… So life is much, much tougher.
What does tantalizing mean, Sophie?
It means something you want that's almost, but not quite, within reach. So, scientists would love to think water flows on Mars but the evidence isn't strong enough for this to be certain. The other interesting point the professor makes is that life may exist in the very harsh Martian environment – because primitive life exists in extreme places on Earth.
Extremophiles are organisms – or small creatures – that live in very extreme environments and can survive conditions that would kill most other organisms. But on Mars they would be living underground because the radiation – or light and heat – from the Sun would kill any organisms living on the surface of the planet. So why doesn’t the Sun's radiation kill us then, Sophie?
The Earth has a strong magnetic field created by its hot molten core – or centre – and this protects us from the Sun's harmful solar winds.
And what about Mars - why doesn't it have a magnetic field?
It used to – 4 billion years ago. It’s possible that a massive collision with an asteroid might have heated up Mars's core, disrupting the magnetic fields.
And if you disrupt a process you stop it from continuing normally. Now, to return to the subject of collisions, Sophie, I have something very interesting to tell you.
A meteorite – or a piece of rock from outer space – might've crashed into the Earth millions of years ago. That meteorite might have contained Martian life forms. So we might be descended from Martians!
That's actually an interesting idea, Neil. But let's listen to Professor John Zarnecki talking about interplanetary life.
John Zarnecki, Professor of Space Science, The Open University
If we do find traces of life on Mars we don't know, do we - whether it evolved independently or was it perhaps seeded from Earth. It is possible that life forms from Earth travelled to Mars and perhaps existed there – or the other way round.
So life on Mars may have evolved – or developed – on its own. Or it might have arrived from Earth in a lump of rock… Or the other way round! So Martians might be humans or we might be Martians! One big interplanetary happy family, Sophie!
Well Neil, let's hope you stay happy after you hear the answer to today's quiz question. I asked: How long is a day on Mars? Is it … a) 5 hours? b) 25 hours? Or c) 45 hours?
And I said c) 45 hours – they must have a long day over there.
And you were … wrong! The correct answer is b) because a day on Mars is slightly longer than here on Earth – it's 25 hours. Anyway, can we at least hear the words we learned today?
the naked eye
Well, that's the end of today's 6 Minute English. Join us again soon!
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It's been described as the world's largest and most democratic classical music festival. Neil and Finn guide you through the BBC Proms
Episode 150903 / 03 Sep 2015
What an awful sound - cracking your knuckles! Listen in to Rob and Neil to find out if it's a useful skill or just an annoying habit
Episode 150827 / 27 Aug 2015
Was Charles Darwin the only man with ideas about evolution? Rob and Neil talk about someone else who discovered it first.
Episode 150820 / 20 Aug 2015
What are the modern day dilemmas in using a lift? Rob and Neil discuss the awkwardness and irritation of being in one
Episode 150813 / 13 Aug 2015
Should young people be made to vote in elections or should we choose? We discuss the ideas behind compulsory voting
Episode 150806 / 08 Aug 2015
What do we need our chins for? Rob and Neil discuss how we got them and what our chins say about us
Episode 150730 / 30 Jul 2015
Why do gibbons sing duets and what has this got to do with the evolution of the human language?
Episode 150723 / 23 Jul 2015
Skinny models: What does the law say about walking the catwalk?
Episode 150716 / 16 Jul 2015
The dangers of computer games. How good are they for our health?
Episode 150709 / 09 Jul 2015
It's amazing! What part of our body have scientists discovered can heal and help us?
Episode 150702 / 02 Jul 2015
Do you chew gum and what do you do with it when you've finished? Listen to Rob and Finn discussing the history and chemical properties of gum and why it's messing up our streets whilst explaining some related vocabulary
Episode 150625 / 25 Jun 2015
Food banks provide food to people in the UK who can't afford to buy their own. Rob and Finn discuss this how they work and how they help many of the country's poorest
Episode 150618 / 18 Jun 2015
Listen to Neil and Rob discussing mood swings, risk taking, and why people make fun of teenagers, while they also explore some related vocabulary.
Episode 150611 / 11 Jun 2015
How can remote parts of the world get access to the internet? Neil and Catherine discuss a new idea for spreading knowledge
Episode 150604 / 04 Jun 2015
What makes us angry and why is aggression useful? Neil and Catherine discuss human behaviour.
Episode 150528 / 28 May 2015
Big bushy beards have become so fashionable that there's now an art exhibition dedicated to them
Episode 150521 / 21 May 2015
A London apartment block has front and back entrances for private and social housing - or so-called rich and poor doors. Does it make sense to you? Listen to a discussion whilst learning some housing-related vocabulary
Episode 150514 / 14 May 2015
Fifty years ago, on 18 March 1965, Soviet astronaut Alexei Leonov took the first space walk. Listen to Rob and Neil describing the struggles of that ground-breaking space mission whilst explaining some related vocabulary.
Episode 150507 / 07 May 2015
Furniture with built-in wireless charging technology - like a coffee table is now being sold. 'Built-in' means the technology is included as part of the table. So you just pop your phone on the table, and technology does the rest!
Episode 150430 / 30 Apr 2015
Many animals face extinction. But people are realising that they must act now to stop further losses. A scheme to save the Asian elephant in China could provide an answer.
Episode 150423 / 23 Apr 2015
How does music make you feel? Research shows that it actually influences us more than we realise - whether we're at the movies, the supermarket, or down the pub
Episode 150416 / 16 Apr 2015
Coffee is now the most popular drink in the world. But what about the economics and politics of coffee production? It's as complicated as getting the right flavour in your cup
Episode 150409 / 09 Apr 2015
Rob and Neil put on their sunglasses to find out more about this special star and teach some related vocabulary. We promise you won’t be blinded with science!
Episode 150402 / 02 Apr 2015
The UK has become the first country to approve legislation allowing the creation of babies with genetic material from three people. Listen to Neil and Harry’s conversation and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150326 / 26 Mar 2015
What are some art galleries banning to protect their paintings? Find out with Neil and Harry
Episode 150319 / 19 Mar 2015
An electronic device under your skin?! Workers in Sweden take part in experiment which allows them to get in and out of their office without a key, ID or password. Listen to Neil and Harry’s chat and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150312 / 12 Mar 2015
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death. He is known throughout the world for his role in defeating Nazi Germany but he also made mistakes. Listen to Neil and Mike’s discussion, and learn new vocabulary.
Episode 150305 / 05 Mar 2015
We live in a richer world. But the gap between rich and poor is still very wide in individual countries. How to change this? Listen to Rob and Harry’s discussion, and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150226 / 26 Feb 2015
The price of vaccines has escalated and some poor countries are struggling to prevent children from catching certain life-threatening diseases, says Medecins Sans Frontieres. Listen to Rob and Neil’s discussion, and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150219 / 19 Feb 2015
Will thinking computers be the end of humans? Listen to Rob and Neil’s chat and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150212 / 12 Feb 2015
About 37,000 tourists are expected to visit Antarctica this season. But should they be going to a region with such a sensitive environment? Listen to Rob and Neil’s conversation and learn some new vocabulary.
Episode 150205 / 05 Feb 2015
At a time when more people compete for fewer jobs, are you sure you present your skills and abilities well to a potential employer? Listen to Rob and Neil's conversation and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150129 / 29 Jan 2015
Going to a party where you don't know anyone? Listen to Rob and Neil's advice and learn some related vocabulary
Episode 150122 / 22 Jan 2015
We use computers for everything nowadays. Are we forgetting our own abilities - and losing our talent? Listen to Rob and Neil's discussion, and learn some related vocabulary
Episode 150115 / 15 Jan 2015
Smoking in cars with children might be banned in England. Listen to Neil and Rob's chat and learn some related vocabulary
Episode 150108 / 08 Jan 2015
Is bullying just an attempt to give a bad name to what is part of human nature? Listen to Rob and Neil’s chat and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150101 / 01 Jan 2015
What would you put in your time capsule? Listen to Rob and Neil’s chat and learn new vocabulary
Episode 141225 / 25 Dec 2014
When enemy soldiers sang together in WW1. Listen to Rob and Finn’s chat and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 141218 / 18 Dec 2014
The London school where students speak 42 different languages
Episode 141211 / 11 Dec 2014
Laughter isn't always the best medicine, says research
Episode 141204 / 04 Dec 2014
Are your pictures, documents and videos safe online? Listen to Rob and Finn's chat and learn new vocabulary
Episode 141127 / 27 Nov 2014
Nowhere to park? How the sharing economy is changing the way we use our space
Episode 141120 / 20 Nov 2014
How can science fiction help the world? Rob and Finn discuss a project which aims to inspire through stories of a bright future
Episode 141113 / 13 Nov 2014
Why is eating meat bad news?
Episode 141106 / 06 Nov 2014
Do real-life superheroes exist or are they just cartoon characters?
Episode 141030 / 30 Oct 2014
Rob and Finn discuss the World Health Organisation's recommendations on e-cigarettes
Episode 141023 / 23 Oct 2014
Should we eat less sugar? Listen to Rob and Neil and learn new vocabulary
Episode 141016 / 16 Oct 2014
Is learning English getting easier? Find out what's new
Episode 141009 / 09 Oct 2014
Why do we buy so much food and not eat it all? Learn more about food waste
Episode 141002 / 02 Oct 2014
Is it right to sleep at work? Rob and Finn discuss the benefits of sleeping on the job.
Episode 140929 / 29 Sep 2014
Is the way we see famous people a new thing? Learn about the first 'modern celebrity'.
Episode 140821 / 21 Aug 2014
Bored? You're not alone. Rob and Finn discuss how to deal with boredom and teach some related vocabulary. We promise you won't be bored!