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Unearthed essay on alien life reveals Churchill the scientist

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A newly unearthed essay by Winston Churchill shows Britain’s wartime leader was uncannily prescient about the possibility of alien life on planets orbiting stars other than the Sun.

The 11-page article was drafted on the eve of World War Two in 1939 and updated in the 1950s, decades before astronomers discovered the first extrasolar planets in the 1990s.

Yet Churchill pinpointed issues dominating today’s debate about extraterrestrial life, proving that the former prime minister “reasoned like a scientist”, according to an analysis of his work published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

The hunt for life on other worlds has taken off in the last 20 years as observations have suggested the Milky Way alone may contain more than a billion Earth-size planets that could be habitable.

Churchill was already thinking along similar lines nearly 80 years ago, writing that “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”.

He also honed in on the importance of liquid water for life, saying that a suitable planet would have to be “between a few degrees of frost and the boiling point of water”.

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Modern scientists are busier than ever looking for signs of life in such environments, both in our own solar system and in the wider universe. So far they have found nothing.

Churchill’s essay was probably intended as a popular science piece for a newspaper, although it never appeared in print. The famous polymath had already written similar science articles for newspapers and magazines, including one on fusion power in 1931.

The type-written essay entitled ‘Are We Alone in the Universe?’, was uncovered last year in the archives of the U.S. National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, and passed to astrophysicist Mario Livio for expert examination.

In his analysis in Nature, Livio praised Churchill’s clear thinking, as well as his support for science as a tool of government policy. Churchill was the first prime minister to employ a science adviser.

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“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.

Churchill’s vision of life on Earth in the first half of the 20th century, however, was far from rosy.

“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.”

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Report typos and corrections to [email protected].
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Sailing among the stars: Here’s how photons could revolutionize space flight

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A few days from now, a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket will lift off from Florida, carrying a satellite the size of a loaf of bread with nothing to power it but a huge polyester "solar sail."

It's been the stuff of scientists' dreams for decades but has only very recently become a reality.

The idea might sounds crazy: propelling a craft through the vacuum of space with no engine, no fuel, and no solar panels, but instead harnessing the momentum of packets of light energy known as photons -- in this case from our Sun.

The spacecraft to be launched on Monday, called LightSail 2, was developed by the Planetary Society, a US organization that promotes space exploration which was co-founded by the legendary astronomer Carl Sagan in 1980.

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Russians to prod Putin on poverty and his personal life as his ratings tank

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Russians are set to ask President Vladimir Putin about growing poverty at home and tensions abroad during an annual televised phone-in Thursday, which comes following a fall in his approval ratings.

The leader is also likely to face a degree of grilling on his personal life, according to questions submitted by the public online ahead of the live show.

Set to be held for the 17th time since Putin came to power in 1999, the show starts at 0900 GMT and usually lasts several hours.

Ahead of the carefully choreographed show, more than one million questions had been submitted, organisers told Russian news agencies.

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Trump could turn on Hope Hicks just like Michael Cohen: Trump family biographer warns

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Trump family biographer Emily Jane Fox explained that she didn't think that the president would turn on long-time aide Hope Hicks, but then again, it was the same thought about Michael Cohen as well.

In a panel discussion about Hicks' testimony during MSNBC's Brian Williams' Wednesday show, Fox recalled that Micahel Cohen once said that he would take a bullet for the president. Once it appeared that Trump would throw him under the bus, Cohen began looking for a way out.

The same scenario seems to be happening with Hicks now.

"She works at new Fox, which is a company run by a Murdoch son," Fox said. "It's a company that's brand new. She's the head of communications there. And there are shareholders who would take issue with the fact that a senior member of this company is being put in this situation and being thrust on the world stage."

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