Ten years ago, the discovery of a planet outside our solar system was considered historic. With advances in technology and space exploration, astronomers have now confirmed the existence of more than 3,000 planets in the universe. Astronomers now know that every star likely has at least one planet orbiting it.
The big question is are there any advanced alien civilizations out there we might talk to? Drake’s equation (1961) included a number of factors–number of stars, fraction that have planets, planets per star orbiting at a distance suitable for water and therefore life, fraction of planets where life likely started, fraction of life-bearing planets on which civilization could emerge, and average life of such a civilization.
Four of these factors remain unknowns, but one thing for sure, the fraction of stars that have planets is now considered close to 100%, and about 20-25% of those planets are in right place for life to evolve over our galaxy’s 13-billion-year life.
In a remarkable editorial written for THE NEW YORK TIMES, Professor Adam Frank ignores the question of whether there’s an advanced civilization out there that could be contacted today. Instead, using Drake’s equation, he asks the question of whether human civilization was the likely the first (or last) in our galaxy. The answer is logically, “no.”
Consider that even if 1 in 10 billion planets (a pessimistic probability) have conditions allowing the rise of an advanced civilization, a trillion civilizations would still appear over the course of our galaxy’s history.
Frank writes, “Given what we now know about the number and orbital positions of the galaxy’s planets, the degree of pessimism required to doubt the existence, at some point in time, of an advanced extraterrestrial civilization borders on the irrational.”
Unfortunately, confirming the existence of such a civilization could take a long, long time.
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