What is the Drake Equation?
by Steve Ford, WB8IMY
Is there a way to estimate the number of technologically advanced civilizations that might exist in our Galaxy? While working at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, Dr. Frank Drake conceived a means to mathematically estimate the number of worlds that might harbor beings with technology sufficient to communicate across the vast gulfs of interstellar space. The Drake Equation, as it came to be known, was formulated in 1961 and is generally accepted by the scientific community.
N = R* fp ne fl fi fc L
N = The number of communicative civilizations
R* = The rate of formation of suitable stars (stars such as our Sun)
fp = The fraction of those stars with planets. (Current evidence indicates that planetary systems may be common for stars like the Sun.)
ne = The number of Earth-like worlds per planetary system
fl = The fraction of those Earth-like planets where life actually develops
fi = The fraction of life sites where intelligence develops
fc = The fraction of communicative planets (those on which electromagnetic communications technology develops)
L = The "lifetime" of communicating civilizations
Frank Drake's own current solution to the Drake Equation estimates 10,000 communicative civilizations in the Milky Way. Dr. Drake, who serves on the SETI League's advisory board, has personally endorsed SETI's planned all-sky survey.
(from QST, August 1995, page 38)
The famous Drake Equation, which proports to estimate the number of communicative civilizations in the Galaxy, was actually the agenda for the world's first SETI meeting in 1961. This plaque now graces the very wall of the room at NRAO Green Bank, WV which once held the blackboard on which the equation was first written.
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