The Drake Equation Turns 50: An interview with Frank Drake | Science News

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The Drake Equation Turns 50: An interview with Frank Drake

Astronomer's insight led to equation that quantifies extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way

2:23pm, November 1, 2009

Ordinarily, science journalists do not report on the work of their close relatives. But on the occasion of certain special anniversaries, an exception may be allowed. In this case, the occasion is the 50th anniversary of the Drake equation, the formula for predicting how many detectable civilizations exist in the Milky Way galaxy. That equation was first written on a blackboard on November 1, 1961, at a conference organized by Frank Drake, who is today chairman emeritus at the SETI Institute, the organization whose mission is the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. He is the father of Science News astronomy writer Nadia Drake, who recently interviewed him about the origin of his equation and its relevance to the search for intelligent life in faraway stellar systems today.

Why did you write the Drake equation?

I was motivated by a desire to understand what governs how many civilizations there are to detect in our galaxy, and

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