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The Search for Life

The Search for Life

Drake of the Drake Equation Talks About 10,000 Contactable Civilizations

Author: Reilly Capps/Tuesday, March 3, 2015/Categories: space science

The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence goes on, listen for signals from other worlds. To me, the search for aliens is way more interesting than the search for god. God might exist, but everyone keeps getting different signals about what He looks like. When Hindus see god, they see extra arms, when Christians see Him, they see a long beard, when Muslims see him, they shoot someone. Meanwhile, it aliens exist, and we got a signal from them, we would all get the same signal (unless we were using Sprint). That might bring us all together in a way that nothing except the World Cup can.  

Today I learned that we're not just listening, we've been reaching out. We want to make it easy for aliens to hear us. NASA boomed "Across the Universe" toward a certain star in 2008. Frank Drake sent a message to outer space in 1974, full of our genetic code. Here it is:

Arecibo message.svg
[Frank Drake's "Arecibo message" by Arne Nordmann, via Wikimedia Commons.]

Drake is the one who came up with the famous Drake equation, which is: 

N=R*· f p · n e · f l · f i · f c · L

Basically, the Drake Equation estimates how many intelligent, detectable civilizations there might be. Mr. Drake himself, when he plugs in his numbers, comes up with 10,000. That's 10,000 detectable. It's totally unknown how many civilizations might want to be detected, or how many we want to detect; after all, it's very unlikely that a single one of these civilizations will have any halfway decent Vietnamese restaurants. Also: they might photon laser us. 

That last reason, Joel Achenbach says, is why many people don't want us to beam messages into outer space, lest we give ourselves up, and the green men come in with guns blazing, the way the Spanish did to the Indians and the Whites did to the Native Americans, only with a lot more anal probing. So there's a debate going on: while we look for aliens, should we also help them look for us? Are there other places dying to reach out to us? Have they given up their own search for god, and now they're looking for us? Do their aliens in their TV shows have two legs, two arms, and pinkish/brownish skin? We won't know unless we ask. But asking might be the end of all of us. 

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