The detection of life somewhere in the Universe other than the Earth would probably be the greatest discovery in history. When pondering this thought a physics/maths teacher called Enrico Fermi wondered why considering the age and sheer size of the Universe that no other species had got in contact with us so far. Think of it there are billions of stars, billions of planets which have all existed for billions of years – you would think that SETI would have picked up more than just white noise.
At the heart of this idea is a paradox – the Fermi Paradox. It was in 1961 that Frank Drake perhaps moved towards an answer to this paradox when he developed an equation for the probability of a contactable alien society living somewhere else in the Milky Way. The Drake equation tells us that there is a chance but it’s still quite uncertain.
Here’s the basis of the Drake Equation
N is the number of civilizations in the Milky Way detectable by electromagnetic emissions
N* is the number of stars in the Galaxy
Fp is the fraction of stars which have planetary systems
Ne is the number of planets per solar system with an environment suitable for life
Fi is the fraction of suitable planets which have actually shown some life
Fl is the fraction of life bearing planets which have spawned intelligent life
Fc is the fraction of civilisations capable of communicating their existence into space
Fl is the fraction of the civilisations lifetime that detectable signals have been released (e.g for Earth it’s pretty small!)
Obviously some of these variables are quite difficult to calculate but all our research suggests that we should have been contacted somehow by something. So Fermis Paradox still is true. If you’re interested more about this subject it’s covered by two maths series on British Television one on BBC and the other Channel 4. If you have trouble connecting with UK TV because of your location – this website shows you how to watch the BBC abroad. It’s a simple technique involved in just routing through a UK located proxy server which allows video streaming.
For further information – http://iplayerusa.org/