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Astronomie - Winston Churchills Ansichten über Aliens in einem verlorenen Aufsatz

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Winston Churchill's views on aliens revealed in lost essay

Winston ChurchillImage copyrightHULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES
Image captionChurchill wrote the first draft in 1939, as Europe headed towards war

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. Mr Riley then passed it to the Israeli astrophysicist and author Mario Livio who describes the contents in the latest issue of Nature journal.

Churchill's interest in science is well-known: he was the first British prime minister to employ a science adviser, Frederick Lindemann, and met regularly with scientists such as Sir Bernard Lovell, a pioneer of radio astronomy.

This documented engagement with the scientific community was partly related to the war effort, but he is credited with funding UK laboratories, telescopes and technology development that spawned post-war discoveries in fields from molecular genetics to X-ray crystallography.

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ExoplanetImage copyrightNASA
Image captionIn the essay, Churchill outlines the concept of habitable zones - more than 50 years before the discovery of exoplanets

Despite this background, Dr Livio described the discovery of the essay as a "great surprise". 

He told the BBC's Inside Science programme: "[Mr Riley] said, 'I would like you to take a look at something.' He gave me a copy of this essay by Churchill. I saw the title, Are We Alone in the Universe? and I said, 'What? Churchill wrote about something like this?'"

Dr Livio says the wartime leader reasoned like a scientist about the likelihood of life on other planets.

Churchill's thinking mirrors many modern arguments in astrobiology - the study of the potential for life on other planets. In his essay, the former prime minister builds on the Copernican Principle - the idea that human life on Earth shouldn't be unique given the vastness of the Universe. 

Churchill defined life as the ability to "breed and multiply" and noted the vital importance of liquid water, explaining: "all living things of the type we know require [it]."

More than 50 years before the discovery of exoplanets, he considered the likelihood that other stars would host planets, concluding that a large fraction of these distant worlds "will be the right size to keep on their surface water and possibly an atmosphere of some sort". He also surmised that some would be "at the proper distance from their parent sun to maintain a suitable temperature". 

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. 

Radar operator, 1945Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionChurchill supported the development of game-changing technologies such as radar

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.

But the politician concluded that Venus and Earth were the only places in the Solar System capable of hosting life, whereas we now know that icy moons around Jupiter and Saturn are promising targets in the search for extra-terrestrial biology. However, such observations are forgivable given scientific knowledge at the time of writing.

In an apparent reference to the troubling events unfolding in Europe, Churchill wrote: "I for one, am not so immensely impressed by the success we are making of our civilisation 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 a prolific writer: in the 1920s and 30s, he penned popular science essays on topics as diverse as evolution and fusion power. Mr Riley, director of the Churchill Museum, believes the essay on alien life was written at the former prime minister's home in Chartwell in 1939, before World War II broke out. 

It may have been informed by conversations with the wartime leader's friend, Lindemann, who was a physicist, and might have been intended for publication in the News of the World newspaper.

It was also written soon after the 1938 US radio broadcast by Orson Welles dramatising The War of the Worlds by HG Wells. The radio programme sparked a panic when it was mistaken by some listeners for a real news report about the invasion of Earth by Martians. 

Dr 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.

Quelle: BBC

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Churchill essay on the possibility of alien life discovered in US college

Winston Churchill’s essay Are We Alone in the Universe? was penned the year before he became prime minister, and reveals his keen interest in science

 
 
Churchill was the first prime minister to hire a science adviser and created government funding for labs, telescopes and technology which led to post-war discoveries and inventions from molecular genetics to x-ray crystallography.
 Churchill was the first prime minister to hire a science adviser and created government funding for labs, telescopes and technology which led to post-war discoveries and inventions from molecular genetics to x-ray crystallography. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images

It might never have seen the light of day. Lost and long forgotten, the unpublished essay by Winston Churchill was penned a year before he became Britain’s prime minister. The matter to which he applied his great mind? Not politics, not the battlefield, but the existence of alien life.

The 11-page article was probably intended for the now defunct Sunday newspaper the News of the World, but for reasons unknown the essay remained with his publisher and only recently resurfaced at the US National Churchill Museum at Westminster College in Missouri.

In the essay, Churchill ponders the conditions that make for a habitable world, and on considering the vast number of stars perhaps circled by alien planets, comes to the conclusion that the answer to the essay’s title question, Are We Alone in the Universe?, was surely a resounding “no”.

“The first time I saw it, I thought the combination of Churchill and such a big question had to be a fascinating read, and that proved to be right,” Timothy Riley, the museum’s director, told the Guardian. “It is completely fitting that Churchill would ask such a question. He was keenly interested in science and technological advancement and supported it throughout his long career.” Riley said the museum hopes to make the essay public as soon as it can.

Churchill’s essay, on pondering the conditions that make for a habitable world, and considering the vast number of stars perhaps circled by alien planets, concludes that we are not alone.
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 Churchill’s essay, on pondering the conditions that make for a habitable world, and considering the vast number of stars perhaps circled by alien planets, concludes that we are not alone. Photograph: National Churchill Museum at Westminster College

Found by chance in a box at the museum, the newly unearthed article reveals more than Churchill’s ease with scientific thinking. It also shows that as Europe stood on the brink of war, one of the most influential politicians of modern times was hard at work on an article about little green men.

 

Churchill read keenly on science from an early age. While stationed in India with the British Army, the 22-year-old read a primer on physics and Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In the 1920s and 1930s he wrote scores of magazine and newspaper pieces on popular science, ranging from nuclear fusion to evolution and cells.

He went on to become the first prime minister to hire a science adviser and created government funding for labs, telescopes and technology which led to post-war discoveries and inventions from molecular genetics to x-ray crystallography.

Writing in the journal NatureMario Livio, an astrophysicist and author of an upcoming book, Why? What Makes Us Curious describes how he apparently became the first scientist to read Churchill’s long lost essay on a recent visit to Missouri. “What’s so amazing about the piece is that here is a man, arguably the greatest statesperson of the twentieth century, and in 1939 he not only has the interest, but finds the time, to write an essay about a purely scientific question,” Livio said.

Livio ran a scientist’s eye over Churchill’s essay and was impressed at what he found. “His logic, his train of thought, mirrors exactly what we think today when we think about this question of life elsewhere,” he said.

Churchill starts out by defining what is meant by “life”. Most important, he writes, is the ability to “breed and multiply”. He then moves on to the need for liquid water, an apparent necessity for all living things that still drives the search for alien organisms today.

Modern astronomers talk about stars having a “habitable zone”, a Goldilocks region around them where a planet’s temperature will be neither too hot nor too cold to sustain liquid water. Churchill hit on the same idea, writing that life can only survive “between a few degrees of frost and the boiling point of water.” He was not spot on with every observation. On Earth, some bacteria can survive from -25C to 120C (-13F to 248F).

 

Churchill was a devoted fan of HG Wells and began his essay shortly after the 1938 US radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, which whipped up Mars fever in the media. He reasoned that Venus and Mars were the only places in the solar system other than Earth that could harbour life, the other planets being too cold, or on Mercury’s sun-facing side, too hot.

At the time Churchill penned the essay, astronomers favoured a theory that had planets form when stars ripped material off one another as they swept past. Because such encounters were bound to be rare, he reasoned that our sun might be alone in hosting planets. But Churchill proved a good sceptic. “I am not sufficiently conceited,” he writes,” to think that my sun is the only one with a family of planets.” His intuition was right. Astronomers have now spotted thousands of planets beyond the solar system.

Step by step, Churchill reaches a view and expresses it a final sentence that mixes despair with optimism. He writes: “I, for one, am not so immensely impressed by the success we are making of our civilisation 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.”

Richard Toye, professor of history at Exeter University, and author of three books on Churchill, said the great wartime leader wrote scores of newspaper and magazine articles before he took office to fund his expensive lifestyle. It was not unknown for Churchill to jot down notes and pay a ghostwriter to flesh a piece out for him.

“It’s always interesting to find something unpublished by Churchill,” Toye said. “This is definitely the kind of thing that would have stimulated his imagination, and equally he would have seen it as a potentially saleable topic for the various Sunday newspapers and American magazines which he liked to publish in.”

“He always spent more money than was coming in and he always had to sell the rights to something or other to keep himself afloat,” Toye added. “Often he managed to do it by the skin of his teeth.”

At a time when a number of today’s politicians shun science, Livio said he found it moving to recall a leader who engaged with it so profoundly. “It does evoke some nostalgia to a time when high ranking politicians could think about such profound scientific questions,” he said.

Quelle: theguardian

 
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