Most of us have at one point in our life pondered the question “are we alone”? Surely, out of all the trillions of planets and galaxies, there must be other intelligent life like humans. Yet, surprisingly, we haven’t officially encountered any other alien species. Could it be that they’re not out there?
The famous “Drake Equation” established a mathematical model to predict how many intelligent civilizations are out there. The problem with that formula was that 2 estimates in the equation were too uncertain.
According to Adam Frank, astronomy and physics professor at the University of Rochester, and a coauthor of the paper (appearing in the journal Astrobiology): “We’ve known for a long time approximately how many stars exist. We didn’t know how many of those stars had planets that could potentially harbor life, how often life might evolve and lead to intelligent beings, and how long any civilizations might last before becoming extinct.”
The Drake equation couldn’t predict the the probability for advanced life to evolve, and the longevity of technological civilizations—but Frank and his colleague, Woodruff Sullivan of the University of Washington, simply altered the math a little.
They eliminated the second term by calculating the odds against humankind being the only advanced civilization in the universe; and they dismissed the third by formulating a “cosmic archaeological question”—how often does intelligent life evolve throughout cosmic history? Their new equation, which they call the “Archaeological form” of the Drake equation, looks like this—Nast x fbt.
The results suggest that humankind is only likely to be unique if the odds of another civilization developing on a habitable world are less than one in 1022.
That’s an extremely small number that many people think is improbable.
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“To me, this implies that other intelligent, technology producing species very likely have evolved before us,” says Frank. “Think of it this way: before our result you’d be considered a pessimist if you imagined the probability of evolving a civilization on a habitable planet were, say, one in a trillion. But even that guess, one chance in a trillion, implies that what has happened here on Earth with humanity has in fact happened about 10 billion other times over cosmic history!”
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