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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.

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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.

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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.

“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.

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“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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‘I’ve seen smarter cabinets at IKEA’: The most memorable signs from the global climate strike

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"Why should we go to class if you won't listen to the educated?" one homemade sign asked.

With millions marching to demand bold climate action in more than 150 countries around the world on Friday, a number of sentiments expressed on homemade signs and through other demonstrations captured the world's attention.

An estimated 400,000 people attended strikes across Australia to start off the day of action. The Australian Conservation Foundation shared a video of some of the young people, including one marcher who proclaimed, "You'll die of old age, we'll die of climate change," addressing the world leaders who climate scientists say are not working nearly fast enough to end fossil fuel extraction and the resulting carbon emissions which are causing global warming, rising sea levels, droughts, and other extreme weather events.

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Trump felt free to ask for Ukraine election interference after Mueller let him off the hook: CNN guest

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On CNN's "New Day Weekend," author and commentator Garrett Graff noted that President Donald Trump's attempt to push Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden came right after former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in 2016 ended — and suggested the two were related.

"You know, Garrett, there may be some people thinking 'Gosh, we just got out of the whole scenario with the Mueller report. Now we have this again,'" said anchor Christi Paul. "Do you get a sense that there are people looking at this saying 'I think I have confidence in the 2020 election?'"

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Alexander von Humboldt was the first person to understand climate change — more than 200 years ago

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Alexander von Humboldt was born on September 14, 1769. In his day, he was a globetrotting, convention-defying hero— one of the first recorded individuals to raise environmental concerns. To make him hip for a new generation, all it takes is a rediscovery of Humboldt by the young climate strikers across the globe. Their numbers are growing, their task is huge, and they are now urging adults to join them. Why let parents fiddle when the house burns? On May 22, grown-ups at the Columbia Journalism Review, The Nation, and The Guardian listened and launched Covering Climate Now, a project to encourage more coverage of climate change in the media. Bill Moyers, the keynote speaker, pointed out that from 2017 to 2018, major network coverage of climate issues fell 45 percent to a total of a mere 142 minutes. And on May 23, with her knack of being spot-on, 16-year-old climate activist and rising star Greta Thunberg promptly wrote of taking on the climate change challenge: “It’s humanity’s job.”

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