Churchill was an alien life disciple
BRITAIN: The typewritten essay contains predictions about the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence that were decades ahead of their time – the sort of insights one might expect from Isaac Asimov or Arthur C Clarke.
Yet it was written not by a leading astronomer or any of the luminaries of science fiction, but by a British prime minister preoccupied with campaigning for office and winning World War II.
In spite of these passing distractions, Winston Churchill appears to have anticipated questions about alien life that scientists would not even think to ask until as late as the 1990s.
The previously unknown manuscript, which Churchill began writing on the eve of war and finished in the late 1950s, was discovered by chance as Timothy Riley, director of the American National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, was leafing through a cache of papers last year. It was given the title Are We Alone in the Universe? but does not appear to have seen the light of day until now.
Mario Livio, the Israeli astrophysicist who announced the find yesterday, hailed it as a prescient masterpiece of science journalism.
Although the full text cannot yet be released because of copyright issues, the extracts reveal that Churchill inferred the existence of planets orbiting other stars, even though this was not confirmed until 1992.
‘‘I am not sufficiently conceited,’’ he wrote, ‘‘to think that my sun is the only one with a family of planets.’’
He also describes something much like what is today known as the Goldilocks zone, the narrow band of space around a star where planets will be warm enough to support life but not so hot that the oceans boil. Life, Churchill wrote, could only exist ‘‘between a few degrees of frost and the boiling point of water’’.
Livio believes Churchill began working on the essay, possibly with the intention of publishing it in the now-defunct News of the World newspaper, a few months after a radio adaptation of H G Wells’ 1898 novel The War of the Worlds had prompted ‘‘Mars fever’’ in the world’s press.
Possibly with help from his friend and adviser, the physicist Frederick Lindemann, he came up with the rudiments of the Drake equation, which was first published in 1961 and still informs many attempts to calculate the probability of finding aliens.
Churchill estimated that a large fraction of distant worlds ‘‘will be the right size to keep on their surface water and possibly an atmosphere of some sort’’, while some of those would be ‘‘at a proper distance from their parent sun to maintain a suitable temperature’’.
He concluded: ‘‘I, for one, am not so immensely impressed by the success we are making of our civilisation here that I am prepared to think we are the only spot in this immense universe which contains living, thinking creatures, or that we are the highest type.’’ – The Times
An essay Winston Churchill started writing just before World War II had sharp insights about the possibility of life on other worlds.