Research, Technology

The author of the "Drake equation", a pioneer in the search for extraterrestrial civilizations, died at the age of 92

Do you think intelligent life exists?outside the earth? We are unlikely to know the answer to this question, but it definitely deserves attention. The space age, which our civilization entered in the middle of the last century, opened up for us an endless space, cold and silent. Our robotic spacecraft have reached the Moon, sent photographs of the gas giants back to Earth, and are now scouring the surface of the Red Planet. It may seem surprising, but few people were engaged in the search for aliens. So, the idea to send a message to the inhabitants of other worlds belongs to Carl Sagan and Frank Drake. Their courage forever changed not only our understanding of the cosmos, but also our own place in it. Alas, Sagan passed away in 1997, and his colleague, the author of the famous "Drake equation", passed away on September 2 this year at the age of 92. I am sure that his power of thought and achievements will continue to inspire millions of people, and the editors of say goodbye to one of the greatest scientists in the history of mankind.

Astronomer Frank Drake, pioneer of extraterrestrial civilizations, dies


  • 1 Can anyone hear us?
  • 2 Radical approach to astronomy
  • 3 Drake equation
  • 4 How and who is looking for aliens?

Does anyone hear us?

Frank Donald Drake was fascinated by space.During his years of study at the Department of Electronics at Cornell University, he attended a course of lectures by astronomer Otto Struve on the formation of star systems, and since then his fate has been sealed. Together with his teacher, he was involved in the construction of a 28-meter radio telescope based on the NRAO (Project Ozma), the world's first instrument specifically designed to search for extraterrestrial life.

Generally, Drake was first three times. In addition to the Ozma project, he collaborated with KarlSagan - together they worked on creating messages for alien civilizations, including sending the Pioneers and Voyagers into space, as well as the "Arecibo message", sent in 1974 to the M13 star cluster.

Encrypted message of Arecibo

Moreover, his famous equation is inferior inpopularity only to the equation of Albert Einstein. Drake was convinced that he had entered into the equation all the necessary factors to estimate the likelihood of the existence of intelligent life in the expanses of the universe. The methods established by him are widely used in astronomy today, helping in the search for life in the vastness of the universe. His contribution to science was truly enormous.

Earlier we talked about messages to extraterrestrial civilizations. You can read about what is on board the Voyagers and Pioneers here. And if you are interested in Arecibo's message, you are here :)

A radical approach to astronomy

After graduation, Drake and Struve(Director of the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO)) worked on the creation of an astronomical instrument capable of searching for artificial radio signals.

Frank Drake changed the world forever

And although the idea of ​​\u200b\u200b"listening" to space wasfamiliar to many astronomers, Drake's approach proved to be revolutionary. So much so that he could not be taken seriously and to avoid ridicule, the scientist listened to the sky for only a couple of weeks, spending $ 2,000 on equipment.

More on the topic: Our radio signals can be heard by the inhabitants of 75 star systems

His work, however, attracted the attention of the academic community. And although the aliens could not be found, the Ozma project was recognized fundamentally new way of space exploration . Eventually, Drake's ideas caught on, and members of the National Academy of Sciences warmly accepted the formula presented by Drake at the Green Bank Conference in 1961 (the same equation).

Drake equation

So, is it possible to determine how many alien communities there are in the universe and which ones can be found? Let's look at the equation itself first: N = R* • fp • ne • fl • fi • fc • L. and then we will analyze it in more detail. Symbols are defined as follows:

  • N: the number of civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy that can be discovered.
  • R*: the rate of formation of stars suitable for the development of intelligent life in a star system.
  • fp: number of stars with planetary systems.
  • ne: the number of planets in a star system where conditions are suitable for the emergence of life.
  • fl: the number of planets on which life can actually arise.
  • fi: the number of inhabited planets with intelligent beings.
  • fc: the number of technologically advanced civilizations whose signs can be detected.
  • L: the approximate time required for the development of technology and the formation of an alien civilization.

The Drake Equation in all its glory

As Drake himself noted, his formula can be comparedwith an equation for estimating the number of students in a university. All you have to do is count the number of freshmen entering each year and multiply that number by the average number of years students spend in college. Yes, everything ingenious is simple. But there are nuances.

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The first six terms of the equation, multipliedamong themselves, give the average number of new technologically advanced civilizations that appear in the galaxy every year. This indicator of "freshmen" is then multiplied by the last term of the equation L, which determines the time period of their existence. The result is N, the average number of intelligent societies in the Milky Way that exist today.

True, if their number is small, then to detect themdifficult. Conversely, the larger the resulting number N, the more likely it is to find someone. In this case, the last term of the equation (L) depends on the behavior of aliens. And this, unfortunately, is not a factor that we can quantify. Our experience, alas, also does not change anything.

Thanks to the Drake equation, you can literally calculate the number of intelligent civilizations on a calculator

Judge for yourself - we've been transmitting radio signals for less than a hundred years. And we won't be doing it for long.Some researchers believe that we have embarked on the path of self-destruction, others are more optimistic. Alas, the past years have not led to a breakthrough in this field of research, except for the conditions that determine the number of new stars and planets suitable for the development of intelligent life.

You may be interested in: In China built a telescope to search for extraterrestrial life

It is worth noting that many have suggested introducing more conditions into the equation, such as the colonization of star systems by ambitious civilizations. The problem is It is impossible to "solve" the equation - there are too many unknowns in it. Nevertheless, this famous formula covers all the research activities of the SETI Institute for the Search for Extraterrestrial Civilizations. You could even say that it is at its core.

How and who is looking for aliens?

Today, SETI is closely studying a million stars inthe Milky Way, as well as about 100 nearby galaxies. But in order for the work to move forward, generous funding and powerful astronomical instruments in large numbers are needed. Unfortunately, not everyone is willing to spend billions of dollars searching for extraterrestrial life.

But if we take into account that the reward will be the greatest discovery in the history of mankind, it is definitely worth supporting the work of scientists.

Perhaps thanks to the Drake formula, we can detect intelligent life in the Milky Way

Every year we learn more and more aboutexoplanets and can study the composition of their atmospheres, and over the next decade (or two) we will be able to reasonably estimate the number of Earth-like planets on which life is possible. After all, if there is no one in space besides us, then how much space is wasted?

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One way or another, we must keep searchinglearning new details about the Universe and revealing its mysteries. This was also what Drake himself wanted, whose life and work were distinguished by special courage and power of thought. Ultimately, he offered a new perspective not only on the cosmos, but on ourselves, which is perhaps even more important. Especially in the years of upheaval that fell on our century.