A newly unearthed essay by Winston Churchill reveals he was open to the possibility of life on other planets. In 1939, the year World War Two broke out, Churchill penned a popular science article in which he mused about the likelihood of extra-terrestrial life. The 11-page typed draft, probably intended for a newspaper, was updated in the 1950s but never published. In the 1980s, the essay was passed to a US museum, where it sat until its rediscovery last year.
The document was uncovered in the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, by the institution's new director Timothy Riley. Riley then passed it to the Israeli astrophysicist and author Mario Livio who describes the contents in the latest issue of Nature journal.
The 11-page article called “Are We Alone in the Universe?”, perhaps written for publication in a newspaper, explores how we might come into contact with alien life.
The article was written soon after Orson Welles broadcast his dramatization of HG Wells' The War of the Worlds in 1938. That broadcast, which was believed by many who heard it and ignited panic that the US had actually been attacked by Martians, kindled worldwide interest in the hunt for aliens.
Lending credence to that theory, he wrote that only Mars and Venus could conceivably harbor life, because of their makeup. Though scientists have not found evidence for life on the red planet, some readings from it have suggested that it could and life is thought perhaps to have thrived on the planet many years ago.
With a nod to the grim events unfolding in Europe, he wrote: “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 was well-known to be interested in science. But Livio wrote in the journal that finding the document was a “great surprise”.
Churchill also outlined what scientists now describe as the "habitable" or "Goldilocks" zone - the narrow region around a star where it is neither too hot nor too cold for life.
Correctly, the essay predicts great opportunities for exploration of the Solar System.
"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," Churchill wrote.
Livio told BBC News that there were no firm plans to publish the article because of issues surrounding the copyright. However, he said the Churchill Museum was working to resolve these so that the historically important essay can eventually see the light of day.