Long before humans set foot on the moon, long before the discovery of exoplanets, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill believed that other stars could host planets capable of supporting life. According to a lost essay he penned in 1939 which was re-discovered recently, Churchill surmised that many of the distant worlds would be the “right size to keep on their surface water and possibly an atmosphere of some sort.” He wrote that at least some of these planets would be at the “proper distance” from their host star to maintain a suitable temperature.
Winston Churchill was far ahead of his time
The 11-page typescript was written in 1939 right before the World War II broke out. The letter was believed to be intended for submission to the News of the World, but it was never published. The essay clearly shows that Sir Winston Churchill was far ahead of his time when it came to thinking about extra-terrestrial life. The letter reached the US in the 1980s and sat at the United States National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri until last year.
Last year when Israeli astrophysicist Mario Livio was visiting the museum, the institution’s director Tim Riley wanted him to take a look at the re-discovered essay. In an interview with BBC News, Livio described it as a “great surprise.” The letter was titled, “Are We Alone in the Universe?” The wartime British prime minister described life as the “ability to breed and multiply.”
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Churchill predicted human journey to the Moon and Mars
Churchill also talked about what astronomers today call the Goldilocks or habitable zone. Planets in the Goldilocks zone are at the right distance from their host star to have liquid water on the surface. Mario Livio described Winston Churchill’s letter in an article in the journal Nature. The original letter could not be published due to copyright issues. The National Churchill Museum is still working to resolve these issues so that the letter could be published.
The former British prime minister made several predictions regarding exploration of our solar system. He wrote, “One day, possibly even not in the very distant future, it may be possible to travel to the Moon, or even to Venus or Mars.” Humans have already set foot on the moon, and are preparing for a trip to Mars. Notably, Winston Churchill had no formal training in science.
A science aficionado
His letter on the possibility of extra-terrestrial life shouldn’t come as a huge surprise considering Churchill’s interest in science. He was the first ever British prime minister to have a scientific advisor, Frederick Lindemann. Winston Churchill would hold regular meetings with scientists. He extended support to many research laboratories and projects that led to a series of discoveries in the fields of X-ray crystallography, genetics, and others.