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Of ****ing course there’s somebody else out there

April 22, 2010

“What if there’s somebody else out there?” is the title of this op-ed by the director of the SETI Institute, Jill Tarter – and frankly it’s a ridiclous question (and a somewhat misleading one, given that it’s not actually posed in the piece). Says Ms. Tarter:

“All of the SETI searching over the past 50 years is equivalent to examining one 8-ounce glass of water from the Earth’s oceans — a lot of human effort, but not a lot of exploration.”

From Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, and in part regarding the founder of SETI, Frank Drake:

… statistically the probability that there are other thinking beings out there is good. Nobody knows how many stars there are in the Milky Way—estimates range from 100 billion or so to perhaps 400 billion—and the Milky Way is just one of 140 billion or so other galaxies, many of them even larger than ours. In the 1960s, a professor at Cornell named Frank Drake, excited by such whopping numbers, worked out a famous equation designed to calculate the chances of advanced life in the cosmos based on a series of diminishing probabilities.

Under Drake’s equation you divide the number of stars in a selected portion of the universe by the number of stars that are likely to have planetary systems; divide that by the number of planetary systems that could theoretically support life; divide that by the number on which life, having arisen, advances to a state of intelligence; and so on. At each such division, the number shrinks colossally—yet even with the most conservative inputs the number of advanced civilizations just in the Milky Way always works out to be somewhere in the millions.

Wondering if there’s “somebody out there” seems ignorant, and again it’s probably just CNN’s stupid headline. But it amazes me that anyone could question this at this point. Contacting or being contacted by other civilizations is another issue entirely, but yes, they are out there. The miracle would be if they weren’t.

(Here’s the Drake Equation wiki.)

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mugwump permalink
    April 22, 2010 3:22 pm

    I love the last sentence. I love the cosmos thereby encompassed. When I was a little kid, and first tumbled to the astounding numbers (“billions and billions,” in the words of Carl Sagan) of stars Out There, it sorta frightened me, small me standing, thanks to gravity, on this geologic mass. But now that I’m OLD, I am thrilled at the prospect of a physical eternity, of sorts. It is very comforting, that sense of perspective.

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