Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Just how crowded is it out there…or are we Earthlings a one-off species?

A just issued paper has tackled this long-standing puzzler. The research attempts to assign a new empirically valid probability to whether any other advanced technological civilizations have ever existed.

Bottom line: unless the odds of advanced life evolving on a habitable planet are astonishingly low, then human kind is not the universe’s first technological, or advanced, civilization.

 

Pessimism/optimism

The paper, published in Astrobiology, also shows for the first time just what “pessimism” or “optimism” equates to when it comes to estimating the likelihood of advanced extraterrestrial life.

A New Empirical Constraint on the Prevalence of Technological Species in the Universe has been authored by Adam Frank, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester and Woodruff Sullivan of the astronomy department and astrobiology program at the University of Washington.

Are humans unique and alone in the vast universe? The famous Drake equation is repeatedly invoked to help eek out an answer.

One aspect of the Drake equation remains a big question and is completely unknown: How long civilizations might survive.

“The fact that humans have had rudimentary technology for roughly ten thousand years doesn’t really tell us if other societies would last that long or perhaps much longer,” Frank explained in a University of Rochester press statement.

 

 

Dealing with odds

In 1961, astrophysicist Frank Drake developed an equation to estimate the number of advanced civilizations likely to exist in the Milky Way galaxy. The Drake equation (top row) has proven to be a durable framework for research, and space technology has advanced scientists' knowledge of several variables. But it is impossible to do anything more than guess at variables such as L, the probably longevity of other advanced civilizations. In new research, Adam Frank and Woodruff Sullivan offer a new equation (bottom row) to address a slightly different question: What is the number of advanced civilizations likely to have developed over the history of the observable universe? Frank and Sullivan's equation draws on Drake's, but eliminates the need for "L". Credit: University of Rochester

In 1961, astrophysicist Frank Drake developed an equation to estimate the number of advanced civilizations likely to exist in the Milky Way galaxy. The Drake equation (top row) has proven to be a durable framework for research, and space technology has advanced scientists’ knowledge of several variables. But it is impossible to do anything more than guess at variables such as L, the probably longevity of other advanced civilizations.
In new research, Adam Frank and Woodruff Sullivan offer a new equation (bottom row) to address a slightly different question: What is the number of advanced civilizations likely to have developed over the history of the observable universe? Frank and Sullivan’s equation draws on Drake’s, but eliminates the need for “L”.
Credit: University of Rochester

Frank and Sullivan calculate how unlikely advanced life must be if there has never been another example among the universe’s ten billion trillion stars, or even among our own Milky Way galaxy’s hundred billion.

The result?

Frank and Sullivan find that human civilization is likely to be unique in the cosmos only if the odds of a civilization developing on a habitable planet are less than about one in 10 billion trillion, or one part in 10 to the 22th power.

“One in 10 billion trillion is incredibly small,” says Frank. “To me, this implies that other intelligent, technology-producing species very likely have evolved before us.”

 

 

Take a read of this new research at:

http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/ast.2015.1418

Leave a Reply

Griffith Observatory Event