Frank Drake, astronomer and SETI pioneer, RIP

Originally published at: Frank Drake, astronomer and SETI pioneer, RIP | Boing Boing


Requiescat in pace.

Just this afternoon, by pure coincidence, I picked up and watched this video from Science Asylum:

Edit: my Latin is not what it used to be.


One of my favorite bits of ephemera.

Sometimes folks criticize the Drake Equation as being ridiculous because we don’t know the values of most parts of the equation – but that’s actually what the Drake Equation was about: showing what things we had to learn in order to get a good guess at what N might really be. When Drake came up with this, we had no real sense of what Fp would be, although we figured there certainly were planets around other stars, but had no real sense of it. But now with Kepler and JWST and Roman to follow, we’re getting a pretty approximation of what Fp really is.


I think the Drake equation is one of his best known contributions to the field, but his work at Arecibo paved the way for a lot of modern radio astronomy, and his concrete work in SETI like the Arecibo Message and the Voyager messages for me reaches far further than the equation. The equation isn’t real science, isn’t real mathematics, and is barely probability. The thoughts it asks us to consider are the value in it, but his other work is concrete and is way more important than the equation.

Very true. We don’t know many of the values to orders of magnitude, and yet it seems reasonable to say there may be many life forms in our galaxy, but probably too far away to make contact over current human time scales. It is also good to know which way the figures are going. We learn that red dwarfs live a long time (hooray!), there are probably a lot more of them (hooray!), but they have massive solar flares (boo!), but life may be sheltered from this on the rim of a tidally locked planet (hooray again!).

We don’t know what we are looking for. We don’t really know how to look. But at least we have started.

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.