01 Mar Alien expert illuminates audience on extraterrestrial possibilities
MADISON – Some of extraterrestrial expert Frank Drake’s beliefs may leave people bewildered. Speaking to an audience of 300 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Feb. 19, Drake, director of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute in Mountain View, Calif., explained the reasons why he believes intelligent life exists in the universe and highlighted potential methods of communicating with far-off civilizations.
“I think all of us who are well-read at all, or know anything about the universe, have at some time realized that it could well be that there are other intelligent beings in space,” Drake said. “Many of them could be more advanced, more sophisticated and with more of a history. It would be fascinating just to find out what they are like.”
He emphasized the importance of persistence and repetition in the search for extraterrestrial life.
“Detecting alien life is like winning the lottery, and to win any lottery we have to make many, many bets,” Drake said.
Luckily, Drake asserted, there are also many, many solar systems that are that are capable of incubating civilizations. Of the estimated 400 billion stars in the Milky Way, 10 percent are similar to our solar system and are able to support life, Drake said. Furthermore, it is only certain that 40 billion stars are unable to support life due to their relatively brief existence and rapid resource exhaustion. According to Drake, the remaining 80 percent of stars in the Milky Way are smaller than our sun but may prove just as useful in the quest for life.
“For a while scientists thought [the less massive stars] were not suitable for life, but now it appears they too could be abodes for life, and even perhaps better ones than the stars that are like the sun,” he said.
The potential provided by myriad life-supporting stars bodes well for the discovery of intelligent life and Drake discussed methods of communication required to detect extraterrestrial activity.
“We have the means, if we work very hard, to detect intelligent life, and get access to all of the wondrous things they can provide us with,” Drake said.
Utilizing rockets to make contact with extraterrestrial life would be costly and a doomed venture because of the distance, Drake said, so the best method of detecting alien civilizations is through electromagnetic messaging. According to Drake, it is possible to send a 60-second telegram at the speed of light to the far side of the galaxy for only a dollar’s worth of energy. The conventional method of powering a space shuttle to complete the same task would take around 500,000 year’s worth of energy.
Drake also briefly discussed his famous equation, Drake’s Equation, and its implications. Drake created the seven-factor equation in 1951 to estimate the number of alien civilizations in the Milky Way. Using those factors, which account for the rate of star formation and civilization life span, Drake estimated there are at least 10,000 such civilizations in the Milky Way.
Phillip Morrison, emeritus professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote of Drake’s Equation: “Next to Einstein’s equation, it is the most recognized equation in science.”