Sunday, March 02, 2008

Is Frank Drake right about an intelligent galaxy?

Write your own Drake equations and make your guess on intelligent life in other solar systems!

Those of you familiar with the SETI project will love this. MSNBC lets you fill in your own guesstimates on the parameters of the Drake equations.

I tried it more than once. The first time, I got a Drake number of “1,” meaning I believe we’re all alone in this galaxy. The second time, being much less conservative, my calculations returned an estimate of 7,650 planets, still below Drake’s current guesstimate of 10,000.

While my “1” may be low, I think it’s a lot closer to the truth than 7,650, let alone 10,000; a third calculation gave me a Drake number of 988. I think Drake and some other people like him are somewhat of what I’ll call “secular salvationists,” wanting science to provide a quasi-metaphysical jolt to life on mundane Tellus Mater. In any case, I think they are WAY too optimistic.

The main bottleneck I see is on Drake point 3, how many planets in a solar system are habitable by virtue of having liquid water. I think that number is less than one per average solar system, something like 0.7 or so. I see lesser bottlenecks in the likelihood of life to develop, point 4, and that life to develop to our level of intelligence or more, point 5.

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