An updated method for calculating the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations

A new formula that others can use.


Throughout history, many have wondered if aliens exist or not. As new tools have been applied to the question, many space scientists have become persuaded that the probability of extraterrestrial civilizations developing appears to be more likely than not, given all that has been learned.

As other exoplanet systems have been found, many circling stars are very similar to our sun. It has become challenging to find anything unique about our planet to justify a belief that Earth alone ever produced life.

In a new effort, a small team of researchers from the California Institute of Technology, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Santiago High School has developed an updated version of an old equation to calculate the likely existence of extraterrestrial civilizations.

Scientists have expanded on research done by Frank Drake. In 1962, Drake and his team developed an equation called the Drake equation to calculate the odds of extraterrestrial civilizations’ existence—given all that was known about space and astronomical objects back then. They factored in such variables as the number of believed exoplanets and star systems and how many of them were likely to be capable of supporting life.

In this new study, scientists considered the new factors and added something else not considered in 1961—other extraterrestrial civilizations’ likelihood arising and then unintentionally killing themselves off.

Humans and other animals have a way of destroying their environment. Rats introduced to an island will eat every last scrap of food, for example, and then all of them will starve to death. Humans pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and confront a future in which the planet can no longer support life.

Scientists suggested that such proof probably implies that if extraterrestrial civilizations have emerged, most of them are presumably passed at this point because of their failure to forestall their demise.

The result of the team’s work is not an estimate of the likelihood of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations but a new formula that others can use to make their calculations based on what they believe to be true.

Journal Reference:
  1. A Statistical Estimation of the Occurrence of Extraterrestrial Intelligence in the Milky Way Galaxy, arXiv:2012.07902 [astro-ph.GA]
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