Winston Churchill, British prime minister and one of history’s most influential statesmen, was undoubtedly a man with weighty questions on his mind. How best to save the British Empire? he must have mused. What will the postwar world look like? he surely wondered. But the legendary leader also focused his prodigious mind on less pragmatic questions. For instance: Is there life on other planets?
In fact, in 1939, Churchill penned a lengthy essay on this very topic, which was never published. Besides displaying a strong grasp of contemporary astrophysics and a scientific mind, he came to a breathtaking conclusion: We are probably not alone in the universe. The long-lost piece of Churchilliana has just floated up to the surface again, thanks to an article written by astrophysicist Mario Livio in this week's edition of the journal Nature analyzing Churchill's work.
“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 concluded in his essay. He wrote these words on the eve of World War II—more than half a century before exoplanets were discovered.
Until last year, Churchill's thoughts on the problem of alien life had been all but lost to history. The reason: His 11-page typed draft was never published. Sometime in the late 1950s, Churchill revised the essay while visiting the seaside villa of publisher Emery Reves, but the text still didn't see the light of day. It appears to have languished in the Reves house until Emery's wife Wendy gave it to the U.S. National Churchill Museum during the 1980s.
Last year, the museum’s new director, Timothy Riley, unearthed the essay in the museum's archives. When astrophysicist Mario Livio happened to visit the museum, Riley "thrust [the] typewritten essay" into his hands, Livio writes in Nature. Riley was eager to hear the perspective of an astrophysicist. And Livio, for his part, was floored. “Imagine my thrill that I may be the first scientist to examine this essay,” he writes in Nature.
Churchill did his homework, Livio reports. Though he probably didn't pore over peer-reviewed scientific literature, the statesman seems to have read enough, and spoke with enough top scientists—including the physicist Frederick Lindemann, his friend and later his official scientific adviser—to have had a strong grasp of the major theories and ideas of his time. But that wasn't what left the deepest impression on Livio.
“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 says. “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 identified liquid water, for example, as a primary requirement. While he acknowledged the possibility that forms of life could exist dependent on some other liquid, he concluded that “nothing in our present knowledge entitles us to make such an assumption.”
"This is exactly what we still do today: Try to find life by following the water,” Livio says. “But next, Churchill asked 'What does it take for liquid water to be there?' And so he identified this thing that today we call the habitable zone.”
By breaking down the challenge into its component parts, Churchill ended up delving into the factors necessary to create what is now known as the “Goldilocks zone” around a star: that elusive region in which a life-sustaining planet could theoretically exist. In our own solar system, he concluded, only Mars and Venus could possibly harbor life outside of Earth. The other planets don't have the right temperatures, Churchill noted, while the Moon and asteroids lack sufficient gravity to trap gasses and sustain atmospheres.
Turning his gaze beyond our own solar system raised even more possibilities for life, at least in Churchill's mind. “The sun is merely one star in our galaxy, which contains several thousand millions of others,” he wrote. Planetary formation would be rather rare around those stars, he admitted, drawing on a then-popular theory of noted physicist and astronomer James Jeans. But what if that theory turned out to be incorrect? (In fact, it has now been disproven.)
“That's what I find really fascinating,” Livio notes. “The healthy skepticism that he displayed is remarkable.”
Churchill suggested that different planetary formation theories may mean that many such planets may exist which “will be the right size to keep on their surface water and possibly an atmosphere of some sort.” Of that group, some may also be “at the proper distance from their parent sun to maintain a suitable temperature.”
The statesman even expected that some day, “possibly even in the not very distant future,” visitors might see for themselves whether there is life on the moon, or even Mars.
But what was Winston Churchill doing penning a lengthy essay on the probability of alien life in the first place? After all, it was the eve of a war that would decide the fate of the free world, and Churchill was about to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Such an undertaking was actually quite typical for Churchill, notes Andrew Nahum, Keeper Emeritus at the Science Museum, London, because it reflects both his scientific curiosity and his recurring need to write for money. It was skill with the pen that often supported Churchill and his family's lavish lifestyle (recall that he won the 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature, with a monetary award of 175,293 Swedish Kroner worth about $275,000 today).
“One recent biography is entitled No More Champagne: Churchill And His Money,” Nahum says. “That was a phrase he put into a note to his wife about austerity measures. But he didn't know much about austerity. He liked luxury so he wrote like crazy, both books and articles that his agent circulated widely.”
That’s not to say that Churchill was simply slinging copy about aliens for a paycheck. “He was profoundly interested in the sciences and he read very widely,” notes Nahum, who curated the 2015 Science Museum exhibition “Churchill's Scientists.” Nahum relates the tale of how as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Churchill was once sent a book on quantum physics, and later admitted that it had occupied him for the better part of a day that should have been spent balancing the British budget.
He not only read scientific content voraciously, but wrote on the topic as well. In a 1924 issue of Nash's Pall Mall Magazine, Churchill anticipated the power of atomic weapons. “Might not a bomb no bigger than an orange be found to possess secret power to destroy a whole block of buildings nay, to blast a township at a stroke?” he warned. In 1932, he anticipated the rise of test-tube meat in the magazine Popular Mechanics: “Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or the wing, by growing these parts separately in a suitable medium,” he wrote.
In 1939 he authored three essays, tackling not just extraterrestrial life but the evolution of life on Earth and the popular biology of the human body. Two were published during 1942 by the Sunday Dispatch, Nahum discovered when reading Churchill's papers at the University of Cambridge. It remains a mystery why his thoughts on alien life went unpublished.
In the rediscovered essay, Churchill admits that, because of the great distances between us and other planet-harboring stars, we may never know if his hunch that life is scattered among the vastness of the cosmos is correct. Yet even without proof, Churchill seems to have convinced himself that such a possibility was likely—perhaps by swapping his scientific mind for one more finely attuned to the human condition during the troubled 20th century.
“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,” he wrote, “or that we are the highest type of mental and physical development which has ever appeared in the vast compass of space and time.”
Seventy-five years after Churchill's bold speculations, there's still no proof that life exists on other worlds. But, as was often the case, his analysis of our own still seems prescient.
Like this article?
SIGN UP for our newsletter
About Brian Handwerk
Hammerhead vs. Stingray (2:25)
How Were Easter Island's Gigantic Statues Actually Carved? (4:11)
Air Travel Was a Party, and They Were the Hosts (2:57)
America's First Multimillionaire (2:49)
Aliens don't exist.
Well they don't exist and my evidence is no evidence of them existing, before you get all defensive like most Alien fanatics do, just hear me out..
For argument sake, lets say they DID exist, why is it that we always see a stupid looking photo with a dot on it and not the actual thing? We have great technology here on earth, they can't seem to capture one proper photo or video (100% of them are fake anyway)
Why is it that the Alien fanatics believe they do exist and try to believe so deeply? I am really curious about that question, so please do explain. For a second do you not think that this may be all some sort of "fun" the government created for you people so they draw attention away on what they are really trying to do?
I can go on and on! But it's just the same story over and over again with the fanatics.
For a time I use to believe too, honestly I did, and then this awesome feeling called common sense kicked my head so I understood what I had to.
Tell me, do you have proof of E.T's existing? Show me one.
No no they don't!
If aliens existed, wouldn't we have proof? Most pictures of UFOs are photoshopped and others are stars. We couldnt have seen aliens anyway, the government have never tracked a UFO entering earth's atmosphere!
Also, most alien sightings are caused by hallucinations and/or drug overdoses. Sorry to burst your bubble..
They aren't real
It's actually pretty obvious. You can see that there is no other life forms on any other planet or anywhere else. I mean aliens? Come on? Really? You gotta be kidding me. Aliens are just some made-up hoax or myth just to make people believe in something. It was made to scare little children like 4-5 year olds.
Aliens do not exist.
The most current estimates guess that there are 100,000,000,000 to 200,000,000,000 galaxies in the Universe, each of which has hundreds of billions of stars. As far as planets go, there are around 50,000,000,000 in our milky way galaxy alone.
The Kepler mission revealed 1,235 planet candidates, while 54 of them were orbiting their host star in the so-called Goldilocks zone.
So I'm going to do some rough math to try an determine how many planets in the universe may be habitable for life like earth is.
So if 54 out of 1,235 planets observed are in the habitable zone, this means that 4.3724696% of these planets are potentially habitable. What I'm going to do is calculate how many planets there are in the universe, and come up with an estimate to the total number of habitable planets there may be in the universe and draw a conclusion regarding the possibility of alien life existing based on those rough figures.
This galaxy has 50,000,000,000 planets, this means that roughly 218,6234,800 of the planets in the galaxy may be habitable for life. If we took 2,186,234,800 and multiplied it by 150,000,000,000 (between 100,000,000,000 and 200,000,000,000) to get a rough estimate of the total number of habitable planets in the universe, we would get 3.2793522e+20 planets in a Goldilocks zone.
If we look at our own solar system though, there are 3 planets in the Goldilocks zone but only 1 supports life that we know of. So if we took 3.2793522e+20 and divided it by 3 you would get 1.093117e+20 planets that are most likely habitable and have inhabitants based on all available evidence we can gather about the universe.
The chances of having 1.093117e+20 habitable planets, with 0 inhabitants is so close to 0 that I can't even think of a rational number to describe it at the point (even though I'm basing these numbers on what we see in our own galaxy and solar system along with the Keplar mission, and the numbers may not be 100% accurate when describing the whole universe, the picture I'm painting as a whole is still very accurate as a concept even if mathematical figures may not be totally correct).
This means that it is more likely that aliens exist somewhere in the universe, then not (even if only primitive life like bacteria exists, it is still alien life)
Aliens don't exist.
How do aliens have that kind of technology to get to us? How come they only come to us? I know we aren't the only ones in this galaxy..But it doesn't mean they are aliens. It could be anything pretty much. There is no proof. Some people claimed they have seen aliens, but its probably fake. Think about it .
Aliens Don't Exist
Aliens simply do not exist since there has not been any proof, apparently aliens have been seen in "pictures" but they are just simply a doll or either a piece of latex. I know for a fact that they don't exist. Has there been any proof? No so why don't you stop!
The distance to all other galaxies is so far, that the light takes millions, usually billions of years to reach us. With such large time frames involved, we cannot assume that extraterrestrials exist, and we cannot assume that life can exist. So am I to understand you are proposing that mankind will somehow break all known laws of physics to find these life forms on places we can't verify exist across distances we can never cover even if we had extra solar craft able to go one hundred thousand times the speed of light? If a tree falls in a forest with no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? The answer is no, it doesn't. The reason is, sound is made when we process it in our brains and make out a sound. For life to exist, it must be interpreted as life. If I burn a paper, it moves, it splits apart, creating more burning papers, and creates offspring of ash, all the while consuming air. But is it alive? Of course it isn't. Just the same, inanimate objects can do lifelike actions without being alive, as life can only be evaluated as life by other life. So you cannot assume that life exists just because there is an environment to support it. Therefore, unless you have some way to prove other forms of life, you cannot consider there to be life.
No They dont
Fact 1- Where are they?
Fact 2- Has anyone seen one
Fact 3- Why can't we find them
Fact 4- What do they look like?
Can you answer these? If you can you must be an alien yourself and to be honest that's humainly impossible and if you are you need to be taken to the secret service for examination. Thankyou and that's my point. Wanna argue? You're just wating your time because seriously I don't actually care what you think abnd I am not changing my answer. Bye
They do not exist.
Aliens do not exist. Just because there are millions of stars, planets etc. in space, that does not give the probability that there is life beyond earth, these planets are simple planets with no life. There is no evidence which suggests ET exists, although NASA has made attempts to find life in space, no life has been found and it never will be. From the beginning of civilization till now, not one evidence has been found. People will continue to believe in this fantasy and delusion regardless of any evidence being found because they are so thrilled by this belief and fascination.
No definitely not
God created the heavens and the earth, NOT aliens. DO quit thinking about and think of things that matter. Not old stories meant to entertain. We spend all this time debating things that really add no meaning to our lives. This debate has been going on for years with no end.