The long search for new interpretations of the Drake equation - National Geographic

The long search for new interpretations of the Drake equation – National Geographic

Scientists are also trying to pick up signals from extraterrestrial technologies, as my father has long tried with his Ozma project. Instead of starting from the part of the equation that represents the number of civilizations developing “communication technologies”, many SETI scholars are now focusing on wider definition From “communication,” which includes all signals that refer to artificial structures of extraterrestrial life, including radio waves, optical lasers, and energy extraction on a planetary or even stellar scale.

Tarter summed up the entire bandwidth of these types of potential signals with the term “Technical signatures(“Techno Signals”). According to her, the discovery of a techno signal is likely to be much less mysterious than reading traces in the atmosphere of aliens or searching for fossilized microbes. As a new generation of ultra-powerful telescopes comes into use, Tarter and other SETI scientists hope they can use machine learning software to sift through mounds of data for unusual or unusual readings, and discover technical cues they’d never imagined before.

“We might be quite surprised by an accidental byproduct of a completely different monitoring program,” Tarter says.

Filling in these last few variables—fractions of the number of worlds in which life, intelligent civilizations, and communications technology evolve—will require more than one observation. As in the case of exoplanets, many observations will be needed to determine the prevalence of life in the Milky Way.

“When you talk about extraterrestrial life, we often think, ‘Wow, finding it in one place would be a huge accomplishment. Of course it is, but if we find it only in one place, we will not progress from complete ignorance to great knowledge,” says Grinspoon.

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“So even if we get a signal next Friday, it won’t mean we don’t need the Drake Equation anymore.”

hardest variable

My father always said that the variable L, the last Drake equation, was the hardest. L is the average time during which a civilization can be discovered. Definition is often confused with survival or extinction, but is not necessarily associated with either.

“It is unfortunate that people use the term longevity to refer to the longevity of technological civilization. That is not what it means. The term refers to the transmission mechanism,” Tarter says.

“We can develop something, some kind of technical signal, that will last much longer than our civilization.”

Since L is an average, even a single extraterrestrial transmission with an incredibly long lifetime can drastically change its value. For example, if a civilization finds some way to channel its existence into the galaxy for billions of years, perhaps for no other purpose than to help others search for cosmic companions.

My father once said, “Because everything in the equation weighs the same, I knew the answer was only as good as we knew a little.” tell me. “L is the only thing we know the least.”

Unlike other variables, the value of L also depends on the research capabilities of the civilization you are searching for. We humans can search for techno signals by studying all kinds of electromagnetic signals. If a civilization like ours were to monitor Earth, they would be the first to see the beeps from military radars emitted in the early 20th century. But a civilization with superior detection capabilities can look for finer clues.

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Aliens who figured out how to read technology signals in the planet’s atmosphere may have been able to detect radio waves emitted during the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century. This is amazing Techno signals can be detected If you know what you’re looking for and have the patience to see a planet gradually changing. Civilizations with the most advanced technologies can quietly watch life emerge and frolic across multiple planets, sometimes failing and sometimes thriving.

Humans are not yet capable of that. And there is no guarantee that our species will survive long enough to master the art of finding alien life. But if we persevere, we may finally connect one day.

life itself

The idea that super-intelligent aliens are searching for us is mind-boggling to me when I look at the thick, thousand-year-old redwoods that surround me and my father in our little patch of forest in California. Over those millennia, these trees have seen countless lives unfold beneath them, countless struggles for survival, and countless new strategies for survival. For long-lived civilizations (Sequoias of the Milky Way), the value of L is enormous. In theory at least.

Perhaps advanced human civilization is just an atom in the age of the universe. But according to my father, it is only a matter of time and sufficient willpower before we find evidence of more intelligent beings in the universe. in any way.

“We don’t know what to look for,” Wright says. “We are our only example of what we are looking for.”

The enduring legacy of the Drake equation is not a numerical solution, but a mirror. It forces us to think about Earth and humanity in cosmic terms and to think about the fragility of our existence in this galactic sea.

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Wright: “The reason the equation continues, and we keep using it, and it keeps popping up, is because it’s a great guide to the whole problem of life in the universe. The comparison is very versatile. You can explore all kinds of aspects of life and humanity with it, depending on what term you want to use.”

This article was originally published in English at

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