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Frank Drake: The Man behind the Thought of Extraterrestrial Intelligence

The search of extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) was not really regarded as a scientific endeavour prior to Drake

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Russell Chattaraj
Russell Chattaraj
Mechanical engineering graduate, writes about science, technology and sports, teaching physics and mathematics, also played cricket professionally and passionate about bodybuilding.

UNITED STATES: Carl Sagan famously stated in his ground-breaking television series Cosmos that “We make our world relevant by the daring of our questions and by the profundity of our answers.” By that measure, the recently deceased astronomer Frank Drake put our planet on a course for higher prominence. 

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) was not really regarded as a scientific endeavour prior to Drake. But he persisted despite that. Drake had the guts to ask a question because he wanted to know the answer.

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Whatever its complexity and specialization, science is fundamentally driven by great, fearless questions like: What is the universe all about? How did it all start off? What gave rise to life, humanity, and our questioning minds? We have achieved notable progress on several of these topics since the scientific revolution and significant progress on all of them. 

But there is a significant query that science appears to have overlooked. Despite the fact that kids all throughout the world have questioned it as they gaze out into the night. The question is, are we alone in this vast cold universe?

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Guglielmo Marconi and Nikola Tesla, two renowned engineers of the early 20th century, made an effort to listen for any signs of civilization on Mars. Although there was briefly a flutter of excitement, by the middle of the 20th century, there was almost no prestige, financing, or institutional backing for the hunt for life beyond Earth until Drake came. 

He realized that the prospect of seeing alien civilizations goes beyond mere speculation. It is an essential one. If we are by ourselves, we have an extraordinary duty to learn as much as we can. 

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They might be the most intriguing phenomenon ever discovered, if there are any more. So he started the challenging process of transforming hazy speculation into a precise science.

Sagan attended the first meeting on SETI, which Drake assisted in organizing in 1961 at the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia. The Drake equation, which describes the number of intelligent civilizations in the galaxy as the sum of seven components, was there proposed by Drake. There were accurate estimates for one of the factors—the rate of star creation in the Milky Way. 

The origins and evolution of life on these worlds and their frequency remained largely unknown. However, the equation embodies what makes great science great: it is both modest and ambitious.

In doing so, Drake measured our ignorance and put limits on it as he faced the seemingly lifeless void of space and almost no data with assisting him. 

A complete scientific discipline arose from that straightforward line of symbols under Drake’s development, encouragement, and inspiration over the course of 60 years. But his ability to motivate others extended beyond experts. 

Photo Credit: Twitter Drake’s Equation
  • N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible (i.e. which are on our current past light cone)
  • R∗ = the average rate of star formation in our Galaxy
  • fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets
  • ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
  • fl = the fraction of planets that could support life that actually develops life at some point
  • fi = the fraction of planets with life that actually go on to develop intelligent life (civilizations)
  • fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
  • L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space

Astronomers with powerful antennas may someday detect a faint radio screech from the cosmos that will inform us that we are not alone in the galaxy. That will drastically alter how our species functions. And if such a discovery is ever made, it will primarily be thanks to the person who initially thought it was worthwhile to continue the quest.

Even though Frank Drake is no longer with us, his legacy will live on as long as people continue to glance up into the night sky and ponder whether anyone is watching them.

Also Read: The Voyager Probes Completes 45 Years in Space

Author

  • Russell Chattaraj

    Mechanical engineering graduate, writes about science, technology and sports, teaching physics and mathematics, also played cricket professionally and passionate about bodybuilding.

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