A previously unpublished essay by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill has revealed his views on scientific topics like extraterrestrial life and space travel.
Written in 1939 and published Wednesday in science journal Nature, the newly unearthed essay titled "Are We Alone in the Universe?" spotlights how ahead of his time Churchill was with his views on our solar system.
Churchill revised the essay in the mid-1950s after serving as prime minister twice over, the Washington Post reported, but the piece was never published. It was sent to the National Churchill Museum at Westminster College by his publisher’s wife in the 1980s; it remained untouched until Timothy Riley, the institution’s new director, rediscovered it in 2016 and passed it along to Israeli astrophysicist Mario Livio.
In one part of the 11-page typed draft, Churchill mused about the possibility of traveling to the moon or other planets like Venus and Mars — the only two planets in our solar system he could foresee being close enough to the sun to sustain life. Putting a human on Mars doesn't seem so far-fetched now, considering NASA’s goal to embark on this journey by the year 2030, but Churchill’s conclusions were modern for his time — he put these ideas on paper 30 years before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.
Livio noted Churchill's views aligned with the Copernican Principle, or the notion that humans cannot be the only living beings, given the size of the universe. Churchill also hypothesized that other stars have the potential to host planets.
"We know there are millions of double stars, and if they could be formed, why not planetary systems?" Churchill wrote. "I am not sufficiently conceited to think that my sun is the only one with a family of planets."
Within his essay, he defined life as the ability to "breed and multiply" and touched upon the modern concept of "habitable zones" — the idea an Earth-like planet, if it orbits the narrow region surrounding a star, could potentially host life and have water on its surface. Churchill wrote that "all living things of the type we know require water" and theorized that many extrasolar planets "will be the right size to keep on their surface water and possibly an atmosphere of some sort," Further, some of them will be "at the proper distance from their parent sun to maintain a suitable temperature."
Churchill had a flourishing relationship with science, as he was the first British prime minister to hire a science adviser and frequently met with scientists. He was also known for funding labs across various scientific fields.
Two of Churchill's other essays — titled "Mysteries of the Body" and "River of Life" — were also rediscovered. Both bodies of work are currently undergoing research.
Churchill wrapped up his essay by touching upon the state of affairs at the time and how it shaped his views on life outside Earth.
"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," Churchill wrote.