Churchill's search for ET

February 15, 2017 by Mariëtte Le Roux
Between ruling Britain and helping the Allies win World War II, Winston Churchill was among the first to theorise about other regions of the Universe in which conditions may be conducive to harbouring life, it has been revealed

War correspondent, statesman, astronomer. Stargazing may not be what Winston Churchill is best remembered for, but a treatise he wrote on extraterrestrial life has revealed his scientific acumen six decades later.

Between ruling Britain and helping the Allies win World War II, the British Bulldog was among the first to theorise about other regions of the Universe in which conditions may be conducive to harbouring life, it has been revealed.

Excerpts from his essay "Are We Alone in the Universe?" were brought to light Wednesday in the science journal Nature.

"I am not sufficiently conceited to think that my sun is the only one with a family of ," Churchill wrote in the document which astrophysicist Mario Livio laid hands upon last year at the US National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri.

There must be many other planets, he concluded, of "the right size to keep... water and possibly an atmosphere", and "at the proper distance from their parent sun to maintain a suitable temperature."

This later became known as a star's "habitable zone".

To qualify, a planet has to orbit its star at a distance far enough so that water does not evaporate in the solar heat, and near enough that it does not freeze beyond the rays' reach.

Water is considered an essential requirement for life, however primitive.

Churchill first drafted the paper in 1939, when Europe was on the brink of war, and revised it in the late 1950s while visiting his publisher in a village in the south of France, said Livio.

As far as could be determined, the work has never been published or subjected to scientific or academic scrutiny.

"What is extraordinary is his train of thought, he thinks about the problem like a scientist," Livio told AFP of the find.

'Goldilocks' zone

The concept of originated in the 1950s, the same decade in which Churchill finished his essay.

A war correspondent and soldier turned politician, Churchill was also known for his love of science.

He wrote essays and articles in the 1920s and 1930s on topics including evolution, cell biology and fusion power.

Later as a politician, he regularly consulted scientists and was the first British prime minister to employ a science adviser, according to Livio.

The government under Churchill funded laboratories, telescopes and technology development that spawned many discoveries.

Until now, astrophysics was not known to have been one of his fields of scientific interest.

"At a time when a number of today's politicians shun science, I find it moving to recall a leader who engaged with it so profoundly," Livio wrote in Nature.

The hunt for potentially habitable planets elsewhere in the Universe began decades after Churchill's musings on the topic.

In 2015, researchers calculated that our Milky Way galaxy alone may be home to billions of planets orbiting in their host stars' so-called "Goldilocks" zone.

The Paris-based Extrasolar Planets Encylopaedia has so far compiled a database of over 3,500 planets around other stars, a few dozen in the habitable sweet spot.

Explore further: A catalog of habitable zone exoplanets

More information: Mario Livio. Winston Churchill's essay on alien life found, Nature (2017). DOI: 10.1038/542289a

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JamesG
5 / 5 (2) Feb 15, 2017
"In 2015, researchers calculated that our Milky Way galaxy alone may be home to billions of planets orbiting in their host stars' so-called "Goldilocks" zone."

I've always wondered why anyone would think otherwise. Each of the billions of galaxies could have one advanced civilization and none of the others would ever know due to the limits of light speed.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Feb 15, 2017
"This later became known as a star's "habitable zone"

-?? From wiki:

"The concept of a circumstellar habitable zone was first introduced in 1953 by Hubertus Strughold"

-From the article:

"Churchill first drafted the paper in 1939, when Europe was on the brink of war, and revised it in the late 1950s"

-Did churchill only add this after he read about it?

I suspect attempts to lionize the last lion.
baudrunner
not rated yet Feb 15, 2017
"I am not sufficiently conceited to think that my sun is the only one with a family of planets,"


That is almost exactly what Titus Lucretius Carus said in his epic work, "On The Nature Of Things", around 50 B.C. He rationalized that the Earth is not the only world that exists, otherwise all other matter and space are for naught.

It still makes the news.
komone
5 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2017
I suspect attempts to lionize the last lion.

You, Sir, are a critic, and not an innovator. The former role is far easier to establish than the latter role. My feeling is that the critic should be more circumspect about dismissal of the innovator.
BubbaNicholson
1 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2017
Edenation of a new habitable world would establish ecosystems in which human beings could flourish. We need a set of seedings and manipulative criteria to slime brave new worlds ahead of our arrival. Similarly, we might have entertained alien slimings in the past ourselves. NASA could investigate the concept of ecosystem seeding by sliming Venus with an object of diminishing surface air pressure, CO2 concentration (photosynthesis, duh). A carbon sink layer beneath an O2 atmosphere might be achievable, if on a limited basis, particularly if the process could be automated. There's plenty of heat on Venus, so a wider set of reactions might be programmed in sequence to achieve the edenation goal.
Taking carbon out of CO2 would leave O2, a lighter species which might diminish pressure significantly, say by 25% or so, and a large carbon pedestal might attain altitude sufficient to diminish pressure as well. We have lots of folks "working" on CO2 reduction, perhaps this twist too?
jeffreyjoemiller
not rated yet Feb 16, 2017
"I am not sufficiently conceited to think that my sun is the only one with a family of planets,"


That is almost exactly what Titus Lucretius Carus said in his epic work, "On The Nature Of Things", around 50 B.C. He rationalized that the Earth is not the only world that exists, otherwise all other matter and space are for naught. .


A pattern of thought that is far more ancient than 50 B.C. He likely learned this from reading ancient Buddhist texts which informed most of Greek and Roman philosophy.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Feb 16, 2017
You, Sir, are a critic, and not an innovator. The former role is far easier to establish than the latter role. My feeling is that the critic should be more circumspect about dismissal of the innovator
?? I did a little research and found evidence that the 'innovator' may not have practiced due diligence. But it was an offhand comment on a very brief news release about a somewhat longer article on what is probably a very long and boring essay written by an amateur.

I could be wrong on many counts but hey - who cares?
ddaye
5 / 5 (2) Feb 16, 2017
I don't see why it should be surprising that an educated man of his background might be one of the fraction who can think like a scientist. It's not the norm but hardly exotic.The essence of it is testing ideas against evidence and being willing to abandon ideas the evidence refutes.Churchill was in mid life when Hubble broke the news --not that "the universe is expanding" which everyone today thinks. Hubble had to first literally DISCOVER THE UNIVERSE. He discovered the entire universe, minus the 1 galaxy around us we already knew. This was a big blank-ing deal at the time. That news was maybe a decade old when Churchill first speculated about ET civilization. There was a lot of world-view expansion going on.

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