Monday, June 12, 2006

Re-Visiting the Drake Equation


Tonight I decided to check out SETI.org (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). During my exploration of the site I came across an equation I haven't thought about in years- the 'Drake Equation'. I was introduced to this equation by my physics professor at the University of Utah back in 1998. The class was called, "Does Extra-Terrestrial Life Exist?", and focused on a hard science (physics) approach to this question. I owe a lot of my enthusiasm for Sci-Fi movies to the lectures, discussions, and research that took place in that classroom. The 'Drake Equation' was created by Frank Drake in preparation for the first SETI conference at Green Bank, West Virginia in 1961. The equation (N = N* fp ne fl fi fc fL) takes into account several postulations to determine the number of civilizations in our galaxy that are capable of communication. Each part of the equation represents a question. For instance, 'Ne' has a value for the answer to the question, 'for each star that does have a planetary system, how many planets are capable of sustaining life?'. Current estimates range from 1-5 (activemind.com). Depending upon which estimation you plug in, you will get different results. By putting in a consesus average for each element of the equation, you come up with a calculation of 1,000 civilizations in our galaxy that are capable of communication. You can do you're own calculation at activemind.com. So, the next time geeks get together to see the latest Hollywood depiction of little green men, let's not forget that behind all the lightsaber battles, men in black, and T-800's, there is a foundation of science that supports the idea of intelligent and sentient beings roaming around our galaxy. Scientists like Drake give credence to a rational basis for the belief that there are other intelligent civilizations in our galaxy that are capable of communicating over vast interstellar distances. We will probably never know the answer to whether life exists in the universe in my lifetime, but I'll cling to the caption in Fox Mulder's office poster of a lone UFO- "I WANT TO BELIEVE".

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris - what's up? Funny you should re-visit the drake equation..it is actually the name of my new band...coming soon to a city (or at least Baton Rouge) near you.

Randolfus Featherduster

8:56 PM  
Blogger Chris Allen Gaubatz said...

Randolfus! Email me at chrisallengaubatz@yahoo.com

Good luck with the band...get me a demo...I'd love to review it here on Trashcan Odorous Jr's page!

2:13 PM  

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