A recently discovered essay written by Winston Churchill has revealed that he was open to the possibility of alien life on other planets. The popular science article was found to be written around 1939 when World War Two broke out, and within the article contained Churchill’s thoughts and opinions on the likelihood of extra-terrestrial life, according to recent reports. The draft was 11 pages long, and potentially intended for a newspaper. The paper was further updated in the 1950s, although it was never published.
Three decades later, during the 1980s, the essay was transferred to a museum in the US where it had remained undiscovered until just last year. The document was uncovered in the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, by the institution’s new director Timothy Riley. It was then passed to the Israeli astrophysicist and author Mario Livio by Riley. Although the discovery of the essay was fairly recent, its contents do not come as a shock to many, as Churchill’s interest in science was well known. He was the first British prime minister to employ a science adviser, Frederick Lindemann, as well as regularly meeting with scientists which included Sir Bernard Lovell, a pioneer of radio astronomy. Despite this, Dr Livio described the discovery as a “great surprise”.
During his life, Churchill funded UK laboratories, telescopes and technology development, which then led to post-war discoveries in fields from molecular genetics to X-ray crystallography. Dr Livio told the BBC’s Inside Science programme, “[Mr Riley] said, ‘I would like you to take a look at something.’ He gave me a copy of this essay by Churchill. I saw the title, Are We Alone in the Universe? and I said, ‘What? Churchill wrote about something like this?’”
Reports since the discovery of the essay liken Churchill’s thinking to that of modern day arguments on the study of the potential for life on other planets. The essay also includes mention of the Copernican Principle, which is the idea that human life on Earth shouldn’t be unique given the vastness of the Universe. He also went on to consider the likelihood that other stars would host planets, due to a large fraction of these distant worlds being “the right size to keep on their surface water and possibly an atmosphere of some sort”.
The essay also correctly predicts the future opportunities for more exploration of the Solar System. He wrote, “One day, possibly even in the not very distant future, it may be possible to travel to the Moon, or even to Venus and Mars.” However, he also concluded that he believed that Venus and Earth were the only planets in the Solar System that he thought were capable of hosting life, whereas modern science has shown that the icy moons around Jupiter and Saturn “are promising targets in the search for extra-terrestrial biology.”
Despite a few predictions that have now been proven incorrect due to the aid of modern science and technology, Churchill’s predictions are still seen as forward-thinking, considering the limited scientific knowledge at the time of writing. Dr Livio told the BBC that there are currently no plans to publish the article, due to issues surrounding the copyright. Nevertheless, the Churchill Museum is currently working to resolve these so that it may be accessible one day in the near future.