There may be 100 billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way, or one for every sun-type star in the galaxy, said Alan Boss, an astronomer with the Carnegie Institution and author of the new book “The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets.”
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland constructed a computer model to create a synthetic galaxy with billions of stars and planets. They then studied how life evolved under various conditions in this virtual world, using a supercomputer to crunch the results.
In a paper published recently in the International Journal of Astrobiology, the researchers concluded that based on what they saw, at least 361 intelligent civilizations have emerged in the Milky Way since its creation, and as many as 38,000 may have formed.
NASA is hoping to find much more habitable worlds with the help of the upcoming Kepler mission. The spacecraft, set to be launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida next week, will search for Earth-size planets in our part of the galaxy.
Boss, who serves on the Kepler Science Council, said scientists should know by 2013 — the end of Kepler’s mission — whether life in the universe could be widespread.
“Where is everybody?”
Physicist Enrico Fermi (1950)
“Civilizations come and go,” Boss said. “Chances are, if you do happen to find a planet which is going to have intelligent life, it’s not going to be in [the same] phase of us. It may have formed a billion years ago, or maybe it’s not going to form for another billion years.”
Even if intelligent civilizations did exist at the same time, they probably would be be separated by tens of thousands of light years, Forgan said. If aliens have just switched on their transmitter to communicate, it could take us hundreds of centuries to receive their message, he added.
“So when you think about that, maybe we shouldn’t be worried about having interstellar air raids any time soon,” Boss said.
This equation was devised by Dr. Frank Drake (now Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz) in 1960, in an attempt to estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy with which we might come in contact. The main purpose of the equation is to allow scientists to quantify the uncertainty of the factors which determine the number of such extraterrestrial civilizations.
Current Estimate: N = 7 × 0.5 × 2 × 0.33 × 0.01 × 0.01 × 10000 = 2.31
Further Reading: Drake Equation