ET Overview: A breakdown of the infamous Drake Equation

A recent study claims that alien civilizations probably existed throughout the universe – here’s how scientists reached that conclusion.

As we reported recently, a recent study from scientists at the University of Rochester made the shocking claim that the universe was likely once populated with advanced alien civilizations that met their fate before they could ever branch out and make meaningful contact with our humble species here on Earth.

The study reportedly brings a fresh perspective to the Drake equation, first proposed by astronomer Frank Drake in 1961. The equation set out to estimate the probability that life had arisen and developed to a technologically advanced state in other star systems throughout the universe.

The equation takes a long list of variables into account. According to the SETI Institute, Drake’s equation is a generally accepted tool used to examine all of the factors that could influence the likelihood of intelligent life existing elsewhere in the universe.

The first variable in the equation is N, which represents the number of civilizations in the Milky Way that send detectable electromagnetic emissions out into space. So far, that means only us.

The next variable, R*, represents the rate of formation of stars suitable for the proliferation of technically advanced life. This simply refers to the number of potential starting points to begin the search for our extraterrestrial friends.

F(p), the next variable, represents the proportion of these stars that have planetary systems. This serves to narrow down the field of search so that researchers are only examining stars with planets.

N(e) further narrows the scope by determining the number of planets per solar system that have an environment that could potentially harbor life. This includes planets that fall within their host star’s “habitable zone.”

F(l) refers to the fraction of the suitable planets in the universe that actually harbor life. F(i) refers to the fraction of these planets that have intelligent life, and F(c) refers to the fraction of these civilizations that have developed the technology that would allow them to broadcast their existence for others to recognize throughout space.

Finally, L refers to the time period during which these civilizations could have been “on the air,” making their presence known throughout the universe. By multiplying the variables R* through L together, scientists can solve for N to determine how many advanced civilizations there might be out there.

The recent study expands on these variables based on new research regarding exoplanets carried out by the Kepler space telescope and other similar research outfits.

Obviously, our research capabilities are extremely limiting in assigning values to these variables, making the Drake equation difficult to solve in practice. As research capabilities continue to advance, however, we may one day know where our neighbors are in the universe.

A press release from the University of Rochester describing the details of the study can be found here.

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