Whether or not the human race will ever come across intelligent life in the universe has something that has been posed in science fiction every since the genre took up space and something that will continue of some time with the discovery of exoplanets and perhaps more importantly the discovery of starts that could play host to planets in “habitable zones.”
What is the Drake Equation?
Proposed in 1961 by astronomer Frank Drake, his equation was a look at the variables necessary for a civilization to exist in which they also had the technical know-how to find us and make sure we knew we were there.
Essentially, the equation needed both refinement and simplification according to University of Rochester professor Adam Frank and co-authorWoodruff Sullivan of the astronomy department and astrobiology program at the University of Washington. The two recently co-authored an article for the journal Astobiology.
The two firmly believe that there is no way that there were not alien civilizations at least as advance as ours here on Earth, but that they have likely gone extinct. That’s a fair bet given the age and size of our universe. If you think of our civilization as about 10,000 years old and the planet become less and less habitable with dire predictions for the future, this makes a whole lot of sense.
“Thanks to NASA’s Kepler satellite and other searches, we now know that roughly one-fifth of stars have planets in ‘habitable zones,’ where temperatures could support life as we know it, so one of the three big uncertainties has now been constrained,”” he said in a press release that accompanied the journal publication.
Given that the universe is roughly 13 billion years old, even a one and a 10 billion trillion chance of another Earth-like civilization with a life of 15,000 years would have occurred roughly 10 billion times.
“[O]ther intelligent, technology producing species is very likely have evolved before us,” Frank explained.
Ten billion trillion?
While that seems like nothing less than a number beyond computation, if you think about it it’s actually nothing more than a one with a whole of a lot of zeroes after it.
According Sullivan, it’s impossible to judge the “lifespan” of a civilization so get rid of the word itself and simply expand on the Drake equation. “Rather than asking how many civilizations may exist now, we ask ‘Are we the only technological species that has ever arisen?’” explained Sullivan.
With one hundred billion stars in just the Milky Way galaxy, and and estimated 20 billion trillion stars in the whole universe, the two came up with less than ten billion trillion.
“That means that even if there have been a thousand civilizations in our own galaxy, if they live only as long as we have been around — roughly ten thousand years — then all of them are likely already extinct,” explained Sullivan. “And others won’t evolve until we are long gone.”
For all of us out there that are genuinely interested in discovering life outside of our own, the two have really dimmed hopes but that won’t stop us from hoping we get lucky, or at least looking for planets that are home to some life. While not at anywhere near the astronomical of finding a civilization like ours or more advance, the odds of winning the lottery are absurd but that doesn’t stop people from lining up for a ticket.