Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Drake Equation

Is there life in the universe? And if there is life, is there intelligent life in the universe? A cursory search of planet Earth may lead you to conclude that there is life; but whether it is truly intelligent or not is yet to be determined.

Carina Nebula

I mean, really, look at the evidence: pollution, crime, violence, war, nuclear weapons, biological warfare, chemical weapons, insatiable greed, overpopulation, species elimination, self indulgence, celebrities, MP3 players vomiting rap music, and gigantic speakers in cars blasting heavy bass with filthy lyrics.
I could stop there and think I will as I believe that I have made my point; and instead, turn my attention to the larger universe in hope of finding sanity in the seeming chaos of Creation.

Antennae Galaxies

The question, “Are we alone in the universe?” has probably haunted humans since they first looked up into a black night sky with innumerable sparkling lights in awesome wonder. So it has been until recent decades when man has begun to apply his intelligence and imagination in new ways to the accumulated knowledge and observation of centuries.
Frank Drake, an astronomer at Cornell University was such a man, and devised a mathematical model for estimating the statistical probability of intelligent life evolving upon other planets and the possibility of communicating with it. His formula, appropriately named after him, states that:
N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible;
           R* = the average rate of star formation per year in our galaxy
fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets
ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
f = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point
fi = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life
fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L = the length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space

The great thing about this formula is that you can provide your own numbers. Scientists estimate approximately 200 billion stars exist in the Milky Way Galaxy, and that was before recent speculation that brown dwarf stars may be much more prolific than previously thought; increasing the number of stars, and therefore, the number of possible planets where intelligent life might arise.
Andromenda Galaxy

Once you have estimated the number of possible planets in the Milky Way Galaxy that could conceivably host intelligent life and create a civilization that is both detectable and is technologically advanced enough to communicate across the vast distances of space; then you can multiply that result by the estimated 100 billion galaxies in the Universe to determine whether intelligent life exists somewhere else.

Messier Galaxy
Fortunately, and statistically, it must: a triumph of consciousness if it does.

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