What the Drake equation tells us


By David K. Johnson, Ph.D., King’s College

There are so many alien-themed movies out there that one could be wrong in thinking that alien life is pretty common. But, how many extraterrestrial civilizations could exist in the universe, and what are the chances of finding them, or that they find Earth? More importantly, how would people react if they were finally able to communicate with an alien civilization?

Whether aliens find Earth or humans contact an alien civilization, there would be an effect on human life in either case. (Image: Marko Aliaksandr / Shutterstock)

Drake’s equation

To determine the possibility of finding alien life, scientist Frank Drake developed an equation to determine the probability of radio contact with aliens. This is called the Drake equation.

Take the rate of star formation in our galaxy capable of supporting intelligent life, multiply it by the fraction of those stars with planets, then by the fraction of those planets capable of supporting any kind of life, then by the fraction from those on which any life evolves, then the faction of life which evolves into intelligent life, and that gives a number of the number of intelligent species in our galaxy.

Next, estimate what fraction of intelligent life will develop civilizations capable of sending communications, and factor in how long these extraterrestrial civilizations will survive and the likelihood of radio contact ever being made.

The problem is, while there is a rough estimate for some of these numbers, there isn’t enough information to fill them all. How often does life evolve on planets like Earth? Are planets like Earth the only ones capable of supporting life? How often does he become intelligent? How long does it last? It cannot really be estimated.

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No extraterrestrial civilization?

According to liberal estimates, the galaxy should be teeming with intelligent life sending signals. But the absence of such signals would be proof that all civilizations, including extraterrestrial civilizations, annihilate each other almost as soon as they develop such abilities. It wouldn’t bode well.

On conservative estimates, however, the possibility of intelligent life in our galaxy is rare relativity; humans could be all there is. Of course, the universe contains around two trillion galaxies, so it’s likely that extraterrestrial civilizations evolved elsewhere in the universe.

But given the long distances between galaxies, you shouldn’t really expect to detect their signals. So not hearing signals is not necessarily a warning.

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The problem of interstellar travel

Given the enormous distances between stars and the fact that travel faster than light is theoretically impossible, it just doesn’t seem like physical travel from one planet to another is easy. Yet, given other considerations, visits from extraterrestrial civilizations might at least be possible. Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke put it best 2001: A Space Odyssey:

Even though it has taken centuries to travel from star to star… this may not be an obstacle for sufficiently determined explorers. The hibernation technique… was a possible answer. Another was the autonomous artificial world, embarking on journeys that could last for many generations. [And] why suppose that all intelligent species have a lifespan as short as humans?

There might be creatures in the universe who would not present a thousand years of travel more than a slight annoyance … ‘[And a]are we sure that the speed of light is an insurmountable barrier? … even if [it] couldn’t be challenged, [it] could be evaded.

Spaceship Voyager in front of the Milky Way galaxy and a nearby bright star in deep space.
The first interstellar explorers were the Voyager spacecraft. (Image: Dotted Yeti / Shutterstock)

Indeed, what would make these long journeys difficult is the fragility of biological bodies. But what if these bodies are replaced by machines? Or if intelligent machines could be built and sent to explore?

Even journeys that would take millions of years would be easy. It is no coincidence that the first explorers of the universe were machines, the Traveler spacecraft, which took off in 1977.

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The effect of the discovery of an extraterrestrial civilization

How would the discovery of extraterrestrial civilizations affect society? Wouldn’t aliens probably want to destroy humans? After all, any time native life forms on Earth have come into contact with “extraterrestrial life,” such as when the British found the Aborigines and the Europeans found the Native Americans, things haven’t gone so well for her. the natives.

Why would it be any different with “space aliens”? The effect on society could be devastating. On the flip side, an alien visit might turn out to be the best thing that has ever happened to humans.

Even an extraterrestrial radio signal would affect society either positively or negatively. On the one hand, there may be arguments over who should send a response. On the other hand, it could make the differences that have traditionally been fought for insignificant.

Foreigners and religious beliefs

Astronomer David Weintraub believes that knowledge of extraterrestrials would be detrimental to Western religions. Traditionally, they have held that humans are special and the center of God’s attention. This is why the Church so vehemently opposed when Copernicus and Galileo overturned this notion.

But it was only a symbolic defeat. After all, while humans are unique in the universe, their status is no less special. But if the universe is full of life, the discovery of extraterrestrial life would nullify the assumptions of Western religion. Christianity seems particularly sensitive. Think about it: Did Jesus also die for the sins of aliens?

It would seem so since most Christian denominations claim that Christ redeemed all creation. Of course, if the aliens say that 2000 years ago they received a divine revelation that said, “Your sins can be forgiven through the sacrifice of a god / man on planet Earth; here are the directions, go ahead now ”, that would be pretty good proof in favor of Christianity!

But if aliens never heard of Jesus, wouldn’t that be proof against Christianity? Either way, contact with alien life would change the way so much is viewed.

Common questions about the Drake equation and contacting an alien civilization

Q. What is the Drake equation?

To determine the possibility of finding alien life, scientist Frank Drake developed an equation to determine the probability of radio contact with aliens. it’s called Drake’s equation.

Q. What possibilities does the Drake equation reveal?

The Drake’s equation reveals several possibilities. On liberal estimates, The Galaxy should be full of intelligent life sending signals. But the absence of such signals would be proof that civilizations annihilate themselves almost as soon as they develop such abilities. On conservative estimates, the possibility of intelligent life in our galaxy is rare relativity. But given the long distances between galaxies, you shouldn’t really expect to detect their signals.

Q. Why is it possible for an extraterrestrial visit to be disastrous for human society?

It’s possible that contact with an extraterrestrial civilization would be disastrous, because aliens might want to destroy humans.

Keep reading
The Philosophy of Science Fiction: Interpretation of Creation
Aliens in fiction: literary and cinematographic representations
Misconceptions in Science: Problems with the Drake Equation


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