Winston Churchill, an officer in the British Army, Nobel laureate, and two-time UK Prime Minister solidified his place in history as the leader of the British people throughout the majority of World War II. His unrelenting refusal to give in to the enemy and storied wit (accompanied with occasional drunken antics) have long been the talk of historians and defensive alcoholics alike, but a recently unearthed essay written by the Prime Minister in the early days of the Second World War gives us a glimpse into another of the man’s interests: alien life.
In 1939, Churchill wrote an eleven-page essay explaining his belief in extraterrestrials, then set it aside until the 1950s, but the man never pursued publishing it. Within the typed pages you can find a well-reasoned argument in favor of alien life that echoes many of the tenants cited by modern scientists who only recently began shifting toward the belief that life must exist elsewhere in the expanse of the universe – but Churchill voiced them decades before such claims would normally be met by anything other than laughter.
“With hundreds of thousands of nebulae, each containing thousands of millions of suns, the odds are enormous that there must be immense numbers which possess planets whose circumstances would not render life impossible….” Churchill wrote in 1939. Developments in space observation technology, including satellite based systems, have since proven Churchill’s statement to be fundamentally true. In the decades since he wrote the essay, 3,572 exoplanets have been discovered orbiting other stars in our universe, with more being located each day. Among those, many are believed to be of the right composition and within the appropriate distance from their relative stars to potentially harbor life.
In the essay, Churchill identified liquid water as a necessity for life as we know it, though he opined that life “could exist” using some other form of liquid, but concluded that “nothing in our present knowledge entitles us to make such an assumption.”
Astrophysicist Mario Livio was asked to review the essay upon its discovery in the files of the U.S. National Churchill Museum last year.
“To me the most impressive part of the essay—other than the fact that he was interested in it at all, which is pretty remarkable—is really the way that he thinks,” Livio said after reviewing the essay. “He approached the problem just as a scientist today would. To answer his question ‘Are we alone in the universe?’ he started by defining life. Then he said, ‘OK, what does life require? What are the necessary conditions for life to exist?’”
Churchill’s scientific approach to the question of whether or not alien life exists was uncommon in his day, but even more remarkable was that England’s wartime Prime Minister had the time and mental bandwidth to address such a question amid the greatest war our planet has ever seen. His reasonable approach brought him to the same conclusion now employed by most in the scientific community, but was considered laughable until only recently: aliens most likely do exist. Of course, for Churchill, it wasn’t just about statistically probability.
“I, for one, am not so immensely impressed by the success we are making of our civilization 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 of mental and physical development which has ever appeared in the vast compass of space and time.”
Image courtesy of PA Wire