Have you ever looked out on a starry night and wondered what else is out there? Perhaps, who else? And if there were to be someone, something there— would they be looking out for you, too?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Others have theorized about it: Frank Drake (an American Radio astronomer who wrote the famous Arecibo message) made an entire equation. Behold, The Drake Equation.
N = R* × fp × ne × fl × fi × fc × L
The Drake Equation is an equation for predicting the number of civilizations in the Milky Way Galaxy capable of interstellar communication.
Short descriptions of what the variables of the equation represent can be found here.
The variables represent the average rate of star formation per year in our galaxy, the fraction of those stars which have planets, the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star which has planets, the fraction of those which actually go on to develop life in the future, the fraction of those which go on to develop intelligent life, the fraction of those which can release detectable signals of their existence, and (finally) the length of time for which these civilizations release signals.
That all seems like a mess, but you get the idea.
According to Drake’s parameters:
- 50% of new stars develop planets
- 0.4 planets will be habitable
- 90% of habitable planets develop life
- 10% of new instances of life develop intelligence
- 10% of such life develops interstellar communications
- These civilizations, might, on average, last 10,000 years.
To be fair, we are not sure on the actual figures. Drake’s values gives an answer of 10, meaning that 10 of these theoretical civilizations would be able to communicate.
But the importance of Drake’s equations is not necessarily the numerical value. It lies in all the questions that the equation led him to. Who knows exactly how many stars there are and what not? These figures are yet to be discovered.
So next time you look above, remember to always question. You’re not alone in questioning and you don’t know where these questions can lead you. Like Drake, you might be led to discover companions from different worlds.