Airdate: Feb 10, 2009
Scientist: Frank Drake
Kids' Science Challenge: Drake - Drake Equation
What exactly should we be looking for in our search for extraterrestrials?
“We’re searching for the technological activities of creatures very different from us with histories very different and perhaps far more advanced technologically, and this creates a challenge for us.”
Frank Drake knows a thing or two about the search for extraterrestrials. In fact, he devised the Drake Equation in 1960. It’s a formula designed to estimate the number of intelligent civilizations in our galaxy. Considering the sheer enormity of the Milky Way galaxy and its billions of solar systems, even the most conservative estimates suggest that earthlings are most likely not alone in the universe. And if extraterrestrials are indeed out there, then Frank Drake and other astrobiologists are pondering different ways that we might find them.
“We have to use our imaginations, try to think through in our mind what would the extraterrestrials be doing which we could detect. Will they have such bright street lights at night that we could detect their city lights? Will they have colonies in space large spacecraft housing millions of creatures in little worlds? This has been proposed as the eventual outcome of the growth of civilizations and the way in which they deal with increasing population. If that’s the case, what should we be looking for? Will they be intentionally trying to signal us? And how do they do that? Will they send beams of light? Will they be sending radio messages? And what else might they be sending? Perhaps, you will be able to think of still another way we might be searching for these creatures.”
If you know of any 3rd to 6th graders with some fresh ideas about finding life in outer space, have them check out the Kids’ Science Challenge. That’s a nationwide competition where kids get to see their science ideas turned into realities. That’s at kidsciencechallenge.com.
Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.