Drake equation crunched – 361 civilisations in our galaxy alone?

Paul Raven @ 11-02-2009

Messier-74 galaxyHey, great news for SETI fans! The latest work on the Drake equation suggests that we can all get our Fox Mulder on:

The current research estimates that there are at least 361 intelligent civilisations in our Galaxy and possibly as many as 38,000.

Awesome! Wait, what?

Even with the higher of the two estimates, however, it is not very likely that contact could be established with alien worlds.

Ah. Bugger.

Of course, the Drake Equation is only as good as its input data, and much of that remains wildly speculative. But the above is the result of factoring in the sudden rash of exoplanet discoveries we’ve made in the last few years; according to Centauri Dreams, the little we’ve learned about them means we can simulate the potential parameters of their atmospheres in order to guess how statistically likely they are to harbour the potential for life. Even that’s mostly guesswork, though:

… in biological terms, we are even more up the creek, since we base our thinking on observations of a single biosphere, our own. To keep the number of free parameters to a minimum, Forgan works with “a biological version of the Copernican Principle,” the notion that our Terran biosphere is not special or unique, so that we can think about life on other worlds as sharing many of the same characteristic parameters.

So keep watching the skies, folks! And don’t forget the hypothesis of Futurismic‘s own Mac Tonnies, which suggests that what we think of as extraterrestrials may in fact be something much more local… [image by jimkster]


Rudy Rucker defines UFO science fiction

Paul Raven @ 02-01-2009

lenticular cloudMaverick mathematician Rudy Rucker is thinking about topics for his next novel, and it looks like UFOs might get a look-in. Partly in response to a recent Loving the Alien column by our very own Mac Tonnies, Rucker is at pains to define the subgenre carefully:

I think we should distinguish between, on the one hand, SF UFO novels and, on the other hand, alien invasion novels along the lines of, say, Greg Bear or Larry Niven. I think, for instance, Neal Stephenson’s recent Anathem, is more of an alien invasion novel, although it’s close to being an SF UFO novel as well.

So, with that distinction made, what should an SF UFO novel contain?

I’d say the essence of an SF UFO novel is point (a) below. Points (b) through (f) all follow from (a).

(a) The novel includes flying saucer alien encounters similar to those described in lowbrow tabloid newspapers, but is neither ignorantly credulous nor mockingly parodistic.
(b) The aliens use a fuzzy technology that might amount to psychic powers. The saucers, in other words, aren’t machines.
(c) The aliens are surreptitiously observing or infiltrating Earth rather than overtly invading—at least for now.
(d) We have some creepy human/alien sex acts.
(e) The aliens aren’t necessarily evil, they may be bringing enlightenment and transcendence.
(f) The aliens might be from somewhere other than a distant planet, that is, they might come from small size scales, from a parallel world, or might be made of some impalpable substance like dark matter.

Part of the game in writing an SF UFO novel is making up scientific reasons why the tabloid-level UFO phenomenon could in fact relate to something real…

As Mac’s essay pointed out, there is a distinct paucity of novels that deal with the UFO phenomenon – maybe 2009 could be the year for a UFO renaissance? [image by sabertasche2]

Hell knows it would make a refreshing change from sexy vampires.


SETI boffin promises ET detection by 2032

Tom James @ 15-11-2008

Senior SETI astronomer Seth Shostak‘s prediction that ET intelligences will be discovered within “two dozen years” seems to have the proviso “if we get the funding:

The prediction is based on a few qualifiers. The first is the assumption made by researchers within SITI that the power, range and speed of the Allen Telescope Array [ATA] with 42 radio camera dishes currently on line and a projected total of 350 dishes will evolve into new technologies capable of distances and speed unfathomable presently. Secondly, an obvious component is necessary funding for evolving technologies.

Hopefully the necessary improvements will be made:

ATA´s current capability is about 1,000 stars that can be viewed simultaneously. The next decade will allow researchers to view up to a million stars at once.

[from Physorg][image from Alun Salt on flickr]


Boffin reckons there could be 37, 964 advanced civilizations in the galaxy

Tom James @ 20-10-2008

Here we have a new treatment of the Drake Equation in this paper: A Numerical Testbed for Hypotheses of Extraterrestrial Life and Intelligence. From the preamble:

This paper outlines a means for applying Monte Carlo Realisation techniques to investigate the parameter space of intelligent civilisations more rigorously, and to help assign errors to the resulting distributions of life and intelligence.

The Monte Carlo method, from what I can gather from Wikipedia, involves:

…a large and widely-used class of approaches. However, these approaches tend to follow a particular pattern:

  1. Define a domain of possible inputs.
  2. Generate inputs randomly from the domain, and perform a deterministic computation on them.
  3. Aggregate the results of the individual computations into the final result.

There’s a lot of complex maths in the paper, and author Duncan H. Forgan says that when it comes to biological parameters the figures are basically guesswork, given that there is only one known biosphere.

Forgan applies his methods to different theories concerning the likelihood of life, including Panspermia, the Rare Life Hypothesis (life is rare, but life is likely to become intelligent), and the Tortoise and Hare Hypothesis (we assume civilizations that develop rapidly are more likely to destroy themselves) with the following scores:

  • Rare life: 361 advanced civilizations
  • Tortoise and Hare: 31,573 advanced civilizations
  • Panspermia: 37, 964 advanced civilizations

Read the paper – if it demonstrates anything it is how much more there is to find out about our galaxy.

[via Slashdot][image from on flickr][image from Kevin on flickr]


My real-life alien encounter

Mac Tonnies @ 24-09-2008

Mac Tonnies - Loving the AlienMac Tonnies assures me that this is a true story; I’ve worked with him for a while now, and I’m inclined to believe him… though I suspect the truth in question may be more symbolic than literal. But you should make up your own mind after you read about Mac’s real-life alien encounter in this month’s Loving The Alien column. Continue reading “My real-life alien encounter”


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