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Number of ET Civilizations In Our Galaxy Is 37,964

CmdrTaco posted about 6 years ago | from the give-or-take-infinity dept.

Space 544

KentuckyFC writes "The famous Drake equation calculates the number of advanced civilizations in our galaxy right now. But the result is hugely sensitive to the assumptions you make about factors such as the number of habitable planets that orbit a host star, how many of these actually develop life and what fraction of these go on to become intelligent etc. Disagreements about these figures leads to estimates for the number of advanced civilizations ranging from 10^-5 to 10^6. Now an astronomer in Scotland has worked out how to make the calculations more precise so that different theories about the origin of planets, life and civilizations can be compared. His calculations say that the rare-life hypothesis predicts only 361 advanced civilizations in the Milky Way now. However, the so-called tortoise and hare hypothesis predicts 31,573 and the theory of panspermia says that there ought to be 37,964 extraterrestrial civilizations more advanced than our own in the Milky Way."

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yuck. (4, Funny)

apodyopsis (1048476) | about 6 years ago | (#25439491)

Make that 37,965. My colleague surely has one growing in his tea cup.


Re:yuck. (5, Funny)

Mastadex (576985) | about 6 years ago | (#25439519)

Like I said before, it adds flavor to a rather dull blend.

Re:yuck. (2, Insightful)

aliquis (678370) | about 6 years ago | (#25439609)

But that one is terrestrial.

Heck, it may even be the intelligent one!

Aliens Cause Global Warming (5, Insightful)

ciderVisor (1318765) | about 6 years ago | (#25439927)

Michael Crichton criticised the Drake equation years ago: []

My personal guess is that there are OVER 9000 civilisations out there.

Re:Aliens Cause Global Warming (4, Funny)

Bishop Rook (1281208) | about 6 years ago | (#25439993)

And we should all listen to Michael Crichton, because he's been right about so many things.

Re:Aliens Cause Global Warming (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25440041)

Uh...hasn't he?

What a great example! (5, Insightful)

Frequency Domain (601421) | about 6 years ago | (#25439499)

...of spurious precision.

Re:What a great example! (5, Funny)

deniable (76198) | about 6 years ago | (#25439521)

The original estimate was 32768 and an overflow flag.

Re:What a great example! (5, Informative)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | about 6 years ago | (#25439713)


That's 32767 and an overflow flag.

And get off my lawn.

Re:What a great example! (5, Insightful)

Sockatume (732728) | about 6 years ago | (#25439539)

No kidding. Our current estimates of the number of stars in the galaxy only go to about one significant figure, with upper and lower estimates differing by a factor of two. That puts a pretty serious cap on the precision of his answer.

Here is an interesting one. (5, Interesting)

ShieldVV0lf (1343419) | about 6 years ago | (#25439953)

No kidding. Our current estimates of the number of stars in the galaxy only go to about one significant figure, with upper and lower estimates differing by a factor of two. That puts a pretty serious cap on the precision of his answer.

One of my peers is an astrophysicist. Nearly all of their calculations are done to ONE significant figure. It ends up that they typically just add up exponents. The numbers are usually so huge, eg. 1E27, that they can get away with this.

When you are dealing with orders of magnitude like these, it is usually acceptable in the scientific community. Whether this de-facto standard *should* be so acceptable is still up in the air in my views :)

NODERATORS!!!!11 (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25440003)

Mod parent up. I am an astrophysicist and I have to agree.

Re:What a great example! (5, Funny)

iangoldby (552781) | about 6 years ago | (#25439573)

It must be right, because the answer came from a computer.

Re:What a great example! (3, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 6 years ago | (#25439637)

Unless it's one of the early pentiums.

Re:What a great example! (4, Funny)

geminidomino (614729) | about 6 years ago | (#25439793)

But the question didn't. We should make a bigger computer to determine what the question should have been.

Re:What a great example! (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 6 years ago | (#25439897)

On that subject, may I recommend this paper [] on meaningful computational chemistry simulations.

But how many of them have hover-bikes?! (0)

aliquis (678370) | about 6 years ago | (#25439507)

It's all in the subject stupid!

Number fun (1, Redundant)

Idiomatick (976696) | about 6 years ago | (#25439513)

The drakes equation really isn't thaaaat useful since its filled with made up values we really can't guess at. BUT its lots of fun, everyone throw in their own numbers that have some personal truthyness to them and see what you got. I get around 43,012

Re:Number fun (1, Redundant)

MikeDirnt69 (1105185) | about 6 years ago | (#25439747)

I bet 42.

Re:Number fun (4, Funny)

CRCulver (715279) | about 6 years ago | (#25439809)

BUT its lots of fun, everyone throw in their own numbers that have some personal truthyness to them and see what you got. I get around 43,012

That reminds me of this article [] from the Onion.

'"My personal savior is Batman," said Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Greg Jurgenson. "My wife chooses to follow the teachings of the Gilmore Girls. Of course, we are still beginners. Some advanced-level Fictionologists have total knowledge of every lifetime they have ever lived for the last 80 trillion years."

"Sure, it's total bullshit," Jurgenson added. "But that's Fictionology. Praise Batman!"'

Re:Number fun (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 6 years ago | (#25439997)

I used a value of 0 for B_s [] , so I got 0 out.

Only 37,964? (4, Interesting)

AltGrendel (175092) | about 6 years ago | (#25439517)

Should give us plenty of room to screw up without affecting anyone.

Where to find them? (4, Interesting)

CRCulver (715279) | about 6 years ago | (#25439523)

I'd be interested to know where the best place to look for ET civilizations is. A common science fiction theme, found in plausible for in Niven's Known Space universe and Vinge's rather implausible A Fire Upon the Deep [] has civilizations getting out of the core as fast as possible, settling the fringes of the galaxy. The increased speed of stellar activity in the core would make for a risky place to build lasting civilizations. Would everyone better than us be at the outskirts?

Re:Where to find them? (2, Insightful)

aliquis (678370) | about 6 years ago | (#25439685)

What is the problem with more activity as long as you can get away? It's not like stars crashes into each other every millionth year or so is it?

Wouldn't the extra radiation if any increase the number of mutations (if they worked as life on earth) and thereby increase their development speed? Same with shorter generations I guess.

Re:Where to find them? (1)

jaylene_slide (681668) | about 6 years ago | (#25439891)

I'd imagine it's possible that the only thing that might cause any of these civilizations to be labelled "more advanced" could be something as simple as Apple on their planet rolling out new notebooks with a matte screen option and Firewire on the consumer models. Hey, I'd migrate.

Re:Where to find them? (2, Informative)

Henkc (991475) | about 6 years ago | (#25440005)

Implausible is right. I seem to recall A Fire Upon the Deep having these silly "waves" passing through sectors of the galaxy which, if you happen to be caught up in one, would either "switch" your intelligence level on/off.

It was a great read let down by this stupid theory.

My estimate (5, Insightful)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 6 years ago | (#25439529)


And it is as valid as this astronomer's estimation.

Re:My estimate (5, Funny)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | about 6 years ago | (#25439551)


Is that the mice, or the dolphins?

Re:My estimate (4, Informative)

mcgrew (92797) | about 6 years ago | (#25439681)

The dolphins, of course. The mice live in another dimention.

Re:My estimate (1)

aliquis (678370) | about 6 years ago | (#25439699)

The mice built the earth, why do you think they'd live on it?

Re:My estimate (4, Informative)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | about 6 years ago | (#25439737)

No, they ordered it. The Magratheians (sp) built it.

Re:My estimate (0, Redundant)

clickety6 (141178) | about 6 years ago | (#25439611)

Judging by the state of the world, I think your one is an overestimate!

Re:My estimate (5, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | about 6 years ago | (#25439683)

I wish I had mod points. There is simply no way to arrive at any meaningful number based on what we know right now (which is very little). Until we can accurately understand how life even began HERE, there is no way to know how common or uncommon this occurrence is across the galaxy.

Re:My estimate (1)

Davemania (580154) | about 6 years ago | (#25439753)

42 is the ultimate answer

Then where are they? (4, Interesting)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | about 6 years ago | (#25439533)

The "famous Drake equation" is NOT meant to calculate anything, it's meant to start a conversation on what the parameters of intelligent life probability are.

On the other hand, the famous Fermi Paradox [] tells us that we're alone in the galaxy. And considering that's a direct piece of data, I tend to believe this view. People like to wave their hands and say, but, but, WE'RE here! That means that there "just have" to be more! Why are we so unique? This is the Sagan argument, and it's answered by the Anthropic Principle [] .

And yes, in this case, absence of evidence *IS* evidence of absence.

Re:Then where are they? (5, Informative)

bailout911 (143530) | about 6 years ago | (#25439657)

Or there is of course, another possibility: That humans are the only "intelligent" species using radio transmission as a communications medium and that any other "intelligent" species is such a great distance away and/or in a region of space where we haven't been listening that we are unable to detect them.

Re:Then where are they? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25439843)

Perhaps they do use it, but they just didn't hear any intelligence in what we were sending them. I know when I hear the radio the last thing that comes to mind is "intelligence" (Perhaps it's irony I'm unsure why we're quoting intelligence)

Re:Fermi paradox (2, Insightful)

LordSnooty (853791) | about 6 years ago | (#25439881)

If we ask "where are they?", could it not be possible that NO advanced civilisation could make it to interstellar travel, given how difficult it would be to maintain a survivable environment, enough resources for the trip, and so on? After all, we can look in out neighbourhood and conclude that life is not abundant in the vastness of space, so it must need some kind of special environment to develop and grow. No matter what type of environment a civilisation may develop under, it's unlikely to be one easily recreated on a spacecraft.

Oh, now I read the wiki I see this has already been considered. Well, there's no evidence that our TV signals and such would be powerful enough to reach beyond the solar system. All our deep-space communication is done to a very precise point. Same goes for the Arecibo message, and that has many years to travel before it reaches its destination. These other civilisations would have to be millions of years ahead of us for us to hear them now.

Re:Then where are they? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25439661)

First, absence of evidence is absence of evidence. Not what you want to be. Do not make this kind of semantic tricks it's worth is a dime a dozen.

Second, Fermi Paradox says that we are alone in galaxy because our belivings are wrong, or we are NOT alone in the galaxy but our observations are not as good as it should be to detect E.T. in some way.

Re:Then where are they? (5, Interesting)

Sockatume (732728) | about 6 years ago | (#25439687)

Well, I'd say the main issue with that argument is that we just plain don't have the tools to detect intelligent life outside our solar system. By analogy atoms were first proposed in Greek times at the latest, but were pure fancy until experimental tools to properly confirm their existence popped up. It was an answerable-in-principle, but still open, question.

For example, we can only just see a planet that seems to be rocky and atmosphere-bearing, which therefore meets some of the criteria for "life as we know it". We've been able to see gas giants, which might harbour life as we don't know it, for a little while now. However we can't actually resolve giveaway cues for planet-spanning civilisations, never mind lower life, either kind of planet yet. And we have no reason to assume that they'll be "chatty" in any way we can detect over long distances. To a group of aliens flying through alpha centauri whose civilisation skipped radio and went straight to fibre optic and laser, 2000AD Earth and 200,000BC Earth would be indistinguishable.

Re:Then where are they? (4, Interesting)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | about 6 years ago | (#25439779)

Well, I'd say the main issue with that argument is that we just plain don't have the tools to detect intelligent life outside our solar system.

Radio signals are not the only way to detect intelligent life. I think the biggest ramification of the Fermi Paradox is that we're here at all. When you do the math, even at sublight speed, it takes about 10 million years to fill a galaxy (give or take an order of magnitude) using geometric progression. That's *nothing* in the billions of years of the life of the galaxy. Yes, maybe a lot of civilizations wouldn't have expansionist goals, but it only takes one. Only one civilization has to have the desire to expand in a sublight sleep ship and the whole galaxy is filled before we even arrive on the scene.

Or, at the very least, someone would have sent out Von Neumann self-reproducing intelligent probes. We should see those everywhere, if life were common.

People hate facing up to the fact that we're alone. But it just seems to be the fact of the matter.

Re:Then where are they? (5, Interesting)

polar red (215081) | about 6 years ago | (#25439923)

Or, at the very least, someone would have sent out Von Neumann self-reproducing intelligent probes. We should see those everywhere, if life were common.

probes with bacteria or virusses, or even just amino-acids ?

Re:Then where are they? (4, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 6 years ago | (#25440039)

Actually, the ancient greeks could have performed Rutherford's scattering experiment which shows not only the existence of atoms, but their (rough) structure. The ability to produce monatomic sheets of gold (gold leaf) has been around for thousands of years and the only other requirement is a source of alpha particles. This would have required an understanding of a radioactivity, however, which is much easier when you have discovered electricity.

Re:Then where are they? (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | about 6 years ago | (#25439693)

Doesn't it really just say that our back garden sweeps a volume of approximately 500 light years radius? Perhaps far less? How old is the radio now?

If you take that bubble and compare against the volume and age of the universe, we should be able to obtain some sort of a probability of observing the output of intelligent life if it exists.

What I mean by this is... The numbers are just too small to take the Fermi Paradox seriously.


Re:Then where are they? (4, Informative)

Bender0x7D1 (536254) | about 6 years ago | (#25439869)

Sure, the signals have travelled a long way. Now, would you like to be the entity at the other end trying to pick out our signals from all the other noise that exists in the Universe?

Since the power of the signal is reduced by the square of the distance, when we start talking about interstellar distances, (forget intergalactic distances), that number is so large as to make our signals virtually undetectable. The CLOSEST star is Proxima Centauri which is 4.2 light years away. Convert to meters, we have approximately: 4 * 10^16 meters. Squared gives us a power reduction of 1.6 x 10^33.

So, if we sent a terawatt signal, 1x10^12 watts, even if there was someone at Proxima Centauri to listen, they would have to hear a signal that's 6x10^-22 watts. Which is pretty hard to pick out from any background noise.

As always, no. (5, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | about 6 years ago | (#25439721)

And yes, in this case, absence of evidence *IS* evidence of absence.

Because a species of intelligent dolphins would surely be detectable from their radio transmissions.

No. That entire line of thought is based upon the incorrect assumption that WE are the model for all other species.

We're almost unique on Earth. Where we share DNA with every other animal. Why expect that from creatures who evolved on a different world?

Not to mention the incredibly SHORT time we've been looking over an incredibly SMALL portion of the galaxy.

Your entire argument is based upon another species developing the exact same technology that we have ... and using it in a fashion we can detect ... far enough in the past ... but not too far in the past ... so that we can detect it ... using the technology we have ... during the time we have been trying to detect it.

Yeah, like that "proves" anything.

Re:Then where are they? (2, Insightful)

thelexx (237096) | about 6 years ago | (#25439939)

Please define exactly what evidence we should be looking for. Until that is done, absence of evidence will NEVER be acceptable as evidence of absence. There is simply way too much that we do not know about the nature of life, it's origins or it's potential manifestations. Bit of pot calling the kettle black there Mr Hand Waver.

Re:Then where are they? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25440009)

Doesn't that beg the question? I mean it assumes we have the means to actually make that observations. But we don't. We don't see very much of the universe.

Assume there is a space ship that travels through our solar system. It would be pure luck if we would detect it. And there is zero chance we would see a space ship that is not in our solar system. And that whole space ship scenario assumes there is a way to travel faster than light...

What about signals? How could we recognize them? Take a look at SETI@home. Huge amounts of processing time are donated to that project, to try to distinguish noise from signals. Only a small fraction of the stars is covered with only a small time frame. The Milky Way as like 200 billion stars. Observing one percent of them for one second accumulates to 1500 years of data. And we don't know how good the scanning algorithms really are.
And that assumes the aliens are in our range, which means they are probably extinct at the moment we receive their signal.

It is like observing a glass of water with bare eyes. You see nothing that is alive, and then you conclude you are the only living individual on the whole planet.

Suspiciously absent (5, Interesting)

NoobixCube (1133473) | about 6 years ago | (#25439563)

No mention of species less advanced than us, but there are apparently 37,964 more advanced. I wonder why that is... Other civilizations must look at this backwater hick-world and laugh.

Re:Suspiciously absent (2, Funny)

corbettw (214229) | about 6 years ago | (#25439695)

If Trainspotting's taught me anything, it's that the Scots have a severe sense of self-loathing, after being colonized by "wankers" for centuries. So it's really not surprising that a Scottish astronomer would assume that other species are more advanced, rather than less so. I'm sure his English colleagues would (uniformly) disagree.

Re:Suspiciously absent (2, Funny)

mcgrew (92797) | about 6 years ago | (#25439807)

They ignore us, we're mostly harmless.

Re:Suspiciously absent (1)

hansamurai (907719) | about 6 years ago | (#25440015)

I look at this backwater hick-world and laugh.

And then cry.

Re:Suspiciously absent (4, Interesting)

4D6963 (933028) | about 6 years ago | (#25440063)

Which is why they send us all the UFOs. I know that serious people like to dismiss UFO reports because of how over the decades we turned the whole topic into ridicule, and the masses of loonies interested in the topic didn't help, but you have to remember that lots of very well documented UFO events reported by military personel and pilots are far from explained by anything we know.

You can scoff off the whole UFO thing but you can't take a precise case (provided it's a good one of course) and explain the recorded flight paths and phenomena.

That's what strikes me regarding the SETI approach vs UFOlogy, we look as hard as we can hundreds of light years away, yet we can't be bothered to take a closer look at what happens in our own atmosphere. I'm not implying that any recorded UFO event is extraterrestrial in origin, but in many cases you have to consider this possibility by an absolute lack of alternative explanations. No matter what I think it's worth a better scientific examination of the whole thing. But unfortunately the scientific community devotes more time and energy to what it considers safe research, which is why we spend so much time in the cul-de-sac that is string theory while investing very little in seemingly more risky possibilities (the Garrett Lisi example springs to mind).

The real answer (5, Insightful)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | about 6 years ago | (#25439571)

We just don't have a clue.

The number of things we don't have a clue about is staggering.

  • The number of planets that can support life. We just don't know, we presume we have observed some planets but they might be failed stars and have no direct observations for far.
  • We don't know exactly where life can and cannot occur. For that matter, we only have our own planet to judge what is alive and what isn't. There is no prove one way or another that oxygen is needed for instance to create life.
  • We don't know if space travel between stars is possible. Faster then light travel would change the rules as any species with such tech could settle countless planets and perhaps wipe out other civilizations OR seed them (Star Trek).
  • We don't know how life starts. Was life started on earth or did it arrive from somewhere else? Huge difference between life starting on its own on every planet OR there being some galaxy wide single seed.

Counting the number of earth like planets is just plain silly. If life can only start in space and then find a planet, earth might be totally unsuitable for the first start. It also presumes life can only exist under earth like conditions yet we KNOW that even life on earth varies widely. If some species can survive on the bottom of the ocean outside the influence of the sun, is it impossible to imagine a lifeform that exist in space itself?

No, I am sorry but until we can actually go and look our estimates of the number of civilizations is between 1 and 1+.

Re:The real answer (4, Interesting)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | about 6 years ago | (#25439813)

The biggest problem I see with this person's claim is that panspermia doesn't really work well when applied to reality.

There was an experiment discussed on Science Friday where an experimenter said cosmic radiation does a good number on genetic material based on tests with actual genetic material. I think they showed that in about 80,000 years, genetic material is just broken up into a bunch of tiny, useless snippets, especially if it's on a rock passing between stars, there is much less protection against radiation than there is within a star's heliopause. Panspermia might be a workable idea for passing organisms and code between planets in one solar system, but not for interstellar travel.

Re:The real answer (1)

jeffasselin (566598) | about 6 years ago | (#25439913)

Not counting the fact that conditions on Earth have changed tremendously since the apparition of life on the planet. Oxygen-rich you say? The planet's atmosphere was originally mostly carbon dioxide, then the appearance of life (cyanobacteria) started consuming this, and releasing Nitrogen. Plants appeared contributing to this effort and eventually filled the atmosphere with oxygen, allowing new, more efficient oxygen-consuming lifeforms to appear.

If someone were looking for oxygen as a sign of the possibility of intelligent life on a planet, he would have been sorely disappointed by earth a few billion years ago. Oxygen needs to be present, but early (or later!) in the planet's cycle it would be trapped in the rocks and water. And we don't know what further cycles life might follow on Earth itself, or for humans elsewhere eventually.

Re:The real answer (1)

Klaus_1250 (987230) | about 6 years ago | (#25439951)

To add to your list; We don't have a clue whether or not (advanced) civilizations can stand the test of time, let alone intelligent life in general. We've come pretty close to nuclear Armageddon and we are still close to it, we may or may not have seriously wrecked our environment (guess we'll know that in 10 - 20 years), etc. AFAIK, there is no reason yet to assume that civilizations can ever advance to the point where they can travel across stars-systems.

Re:The real answer (4, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | about 6 years ago | (#25440071)

There is no prove one way or another that oxygen is needed for instance to create life

Incorrect. Life caused the Earth's atmosphere to have oxygen. There are still life forms here that oxygen is a deadly poison to.

Still doesn't answer the most important question.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25439575)

"the theory of panspermia says that there ought to be 37,964 extraterrestrial civilizations more advanced than our own in the Milky Way.""

Yes but is there intelligent life out there?

my theory is 1 civilization per galaxy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25439591)

Now go ahead and try to prove me wrong ;-)

Re:my theory is 1 civilization per galaxy (4, Funny)

NoobixCube (1133473) | about 6 years ago | (#25439635)

I follow the Mass Effect way of thinking. A handful of civilizations, each with dramatically polarized stereotypical traits, and who speak English with perfect North American accents, regardless of the structure of their mouth(s) and/or vocal cords (assuming they have them...).

Re:my theory is 1 civilization per galaxy (2, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | about 6 years ago | (#25439757)

You have no theory, as it stands it is only a hypothesis.

Re:my theory is 1 civilization per galaxy (1)

zeldor (180716) | about 6 years ago | (#25439965)

the equation while mostly meant as a discussion starter as was already mentioned,
really says how many civs exist in the lifetime of a galaxy. not at this point in
time. the chances of any even remotely similar civilizations (on the evolutionary
scale) meeting are tiny. either one is like us and one is a bacteria, or
we are the bacteria..

'mainstream' media mostly hypenosys... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25439601)

wwworking feverishly to avoid 'stuff that matters'.

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we note that yahoo deletes some of its' (relevant) stories sooner than others. maybe they're short of disk space, or something?
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(talk about cowardlly race fixing/bad theater/fiction?)**http%3A//
(the teaching of hate as a way of 'life' synonymous with failed dictatorships);_ylt=A0wNcwWdfudITHkACAus0NUE
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(the old bait & switch...your share of the resulting 'product' is a fairytail nightmare?);_ylt=A0wNcwJGwvFIZAQAE6ms0NUE

is it time to get real yet? A LOT of energy is being squandered in attempts to keep US in the dark. in the end (give or take a few 1000 years), the creators will prevail (world without end, etc...), as it has always been. the process of gaining yOUR release from the current hostage situation may not be what you might think it is. butt of course, most of US don't know, or care what a precarious/fatal situation we're in. for example; the insidious attempts by the felonious corepirate nazi execrable to block the suns' light, interfering with a requirement (sunlight) for us to stay healthy/alive. it's likely not good for yOUR health/memories 'else they'd be bragging about it? we're intending for the whoreabully deceptive (they'll do ANYTHING for a bit more monIE/power) felons to give up/fail even further, in attempting to control the 'weather', as well as a # of other things/events.

'The current rate of extinction is around 10 to 100 times the usual background level, and has been elevated above the background level since the Pleistocene. The current extinction rate is more rapid than in any other extinction event in earth history, and 50% of species could be extinct by the end of this century. While the role of humans is unclear in the longer-term extinction pattern, it is clear that factors such as deforestation, habitat destruction, hunting, the introduction of non-native species, pollution and climate change have reduced biodiversity profoundly.' (wiki)

"I think the bottom line is, what kind of a world do you want to leave for your children," Andrew Smith, a professor in the Arizona State University School of Life Sciences, said in a telephone interview. "How impoverished we would be if we lost 25 percent of the world's mammals," said Smith, one of more than 100 co-authors of the report. "Within our lifetime hundreds of species could be lost as a result of our own actions, a frightening sign of what is happening to the ecosystems where they live," added Julia Marton-Lefevre, IUCN director general. "We must now set clear targets for the future to reverse this trend to ensure that our enduring legacy is not to wipe out many of our closest relatives."

"The wealth of the universe is for me. Every thing is explicable and practical for me .... I am defeated all the time; yet to victory I am born." --emerson
consult with/trust in yOUR creators. providing more than enough of everything for everyone (without any distracting/spiritdead personal gain motives), whilst badtolling unprecedented evile, using an unlimited supply of newclear power, since/until forever. see you there?

"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."--chronicles

Advanced? (5, Insightful)

i_ate_god (899684) | about 6 years ago | (#25439607)

But we have no definition of advanced.

Look, just because an alien civilization has been around longer than we have, doesn't necessarily mean they will be more advanced than we are.

Maybe they could have been around one million years before us, but are stuck somewhere between Mesopotamia and Rome.

Re:Advanced? (5, Insightful)

AdmiralXyz (1378985) | about 6 years ago | (#25439701)

I think there's also the possibility that there HAVE BEEN more advanced civilizations in the past, but they're gone now. Think about it: the Milky Way is what, nine billion years old? Humans have only existed for a minuscule fraction of that time, and humans capable of detecting advanced civilizations for a smaller fraction still. Perhaps many such civilizations have existed throughout the history of our galaxy, but we keep "missing each other on the timeline."

Re:Advanced? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25439771)

Maybe we are the most advanced thing out here right now(I highly doubt this) but maybe the only other "intelligent life forms" anywhere near us (by near I mean very far) have the intelligence of small bacteria or something like that.

Re:Advanced? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25439817)

In my own anecdotal experience, the people who claim that we are alone in the universe are living in the Dark Ages.

Correlation or causation?

Re:Advanced? (2, Interesting)

JustinOpinion (1246824) | about 6 years ago | (#25439985)

Actually we don't even have a satisfactory definition of "life". Just look at the heated arguments about artificial intelligence or abortion to get a flavor for the lack of consensus on the issue.

There may be organizations of matter that are highly complex but not obviously sentient. Maybe species that are so long-lived and slow-moving that we overlook them as just another rock. Or maybe their composition will be so different (crystal? glass? gas?) that we will dismiss them. Or maybe they will be fairly similar to us (made of carbon, etc.) but we won't recognize their behavior as life-like because their customs are so alien.

Consider for a moment questions like "Is the Internet alive?" (It is a highly complex, interconnected system that exhibits emergent behavior. So is it alive?) "Is the galaxy alive?" (The extremely slow interactions between stars and dust clouds could encode information, forming some kind of creature/mind...) "Is a human alive?" (Why?)

And even if we discovered a bunch of bipedal humanoids made of carbon, there would still end up being many humans making arguments that they are not really alive--because they lack a "soul" or the divine touch of god or something like that.

I'm bothered by the fact that in most of these discussions about intelligent aliens, the question of "how do you recognize life" is taken as a given. As if it's obvious that "we'll know it when we see it". I question that assertion. For these kinds of debates to have any meaning, we need to decide what our criteria for "life" (and "intelligence" and "advanced") really are.

Re:Advanced? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25440007)

Advanced means they have Duke Nukem Forever, Jet Cars and don't have to queue for coffee.

What even made our ancestors less advanced than us? I hear the Egyptians did great things with Light bulbs and reefer.

Compare the World of the 70's against the current one, seemed way more advanced to me maaaaan!

Waaaaay off! (-1, Redundant)

defile39 (592628) | about 6 years ago | (#25439617)

I have yet to see a SINGLE intelligent civilization in this galaxy. I would like some empirical evidence of the possibility of intelligent civilizations before someone speculates wildly about their prolificacy.

Superior Theory (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25439629)

Assnumeral theory predicts seven or eight.

How assnumeral theory works:

1. Spread buttcheeks
2. Extract number from anal cavity.

Re:Superior Theory (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25439773)

Assnumeral and trying to calculate Pi to infinity is how we got goatse?

We have a pretty useless sample set. (1)

91degrees (207121) | about 6 years ago | (#25439645)

There is one known planet that has produced life. This would be our own, and isn't really a good candidate for inclusion in our sample set because it was the one we base our hypothesis thta life exists on other planets on.

So, we can speculate that there are a certain number of stars with life supporting planets. We have some idea of how many stars have planets, and based on knowledge of extra-solar planets, we can make a stab at how many suitable planets there are, at least in terms of being in the habitable zone. So that's a start. That's also an end.

We have no idea of the tolerances for developing life. Could Venus produce a lifeform that thrives at 400 degrees C and breathes sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide? Possibly. Possibly not. We have no idea how many planets have a composition sufficiently similar to Earth because we don't even know what "sufficiently similar to Earth" means. Even if we did, we don't have particularly good knowledge of what other planets are like.

Our civilisation has never become exinct, so we don't even have a sample set of 1 for the typical lifetime of a civilisation. We have no idea what the likelihod of our planet developing life was. It was probably somewhere between 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000001% and 99.99999999999999999999999999999999%. We have no idea how many will be able to or want to communicate. Too many of the unknowns are simply wild guesses.

All we can deduce is that there is at least 1 developed life form in the galaxy, and probably substantially fewer than 400 billion.

31,573 eh? (1)

shic (309152) | about 6 years ago | (#25439729)

Is Earth one of them?

My assessment (5, Insightful)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 6 years ago | (#25439775)

I am a polar bear. Don't bother to ask me how I managed to get on Slashdot and post this, you would never believe it.

However, I have been doing some estimations of my own. I have always wanted to figure out how many polar bears there are in the world. In my neighborhood here in the arctic, there aren't too many polar bears. About 350. I estimate that we roam over 20 square kilometers. Now, based on some observations I made from the bottom of a well, I figure the earth is around 500 million square kilometers. I haven't actually been outside of my corner of this world, but I imagine everything must be like it is here, and life must be exactly like it is here. I have no evidence to the contrary.

So, I figure there must be 25 million times 350 polar bears or 8.75 Billion of them.

Re:My assessment (1)

Capt James McCarthy (860294) | about 6 years ago | (#25439837)

And it's obvious you are in the "more advanced" polar bear column.

Re:My assessment (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 6 years ago | (#25439845)

Not really. See the dolphins were the ones smart enough to take off when the world first starting going to hell. Us Polar Bears voted to ride it out. Do you still think we are smart?

Re:My assessment (1, Flamebait)

SengirV (203400) | about 6 years ago | (#25439877)

With those qualifications, you should be the head of the UN's IPCC. Heck, that's more logic right there than has been displayed by them in the last decade.

Re:My assessment (1)

Zironic (1112127) | about 6 years ago | (#25439899)

Since you're modded insightful instead of funny I feel I must point out that the drake equation does account for the fact not all planets are habitable.

Re:My assessment (5, Insightful)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 6 years ago | (#25439957)

And since you miss the big point, I will spell it out.

A polar bear is using the limits of his logic to speculate on the world as a whole. Had an intelligent bear been allowed to travel the world, he would see where his equation breaks down.

An intelligent human attempts to speculate about the universe as a whole. He is smart enough to realize that he has no clue about how often intelligent life occurs on "habitable" worlds, so he plugs in a variable, then proceeds to put in numbers for something he has no clue about. Since it is unknown, his number is bullshit. Drake realized this, but countless amateurs have treated these numbers as the gospel and wildly speculated about the unknown. this in and of itself isn't bad. However when folks put weight on these numbers, it is bad.

Just as the polar bear has no real clue about the planet it lives on, we have no clue about the universe we live in. I hope that as a civilization that we go out and really begin to explore this place. But as long as we are sitting here on earth, killing each other, and wasting resources on there here and now, we cannot jope to fathom the way the universe truly is.

Close neighbors? (5, Insightful)

JoeMerchant (803320) | about 6 years ago | (#25439781)

But, the diameter of the milky way is about 100,000 light years - so, if we assume that pre-Galileo civilization was oblivious to ET, we as a species are only aware of civilization signs within 400 light years or so.

So, if there are 40,000 civilizations within a 100,000ly diameter, then there are approximately 2.56 civilizations within a 800ly diameter.

Personally, I feel like Earth represents the .56 of a civilization in that scenario...

Re:Close neighbors? (10^-5?) (1)

Tetrad_of_doom (750972) | about 6 years ago | (#25440025)

I agree with your calculation that Earth is a planet of half-wits. (or, 0.56-wits)

Of course, your much more optimistic than whoever suggested there were 10^-5 = 0.00001 advanced civilizations.

Chances are (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25439805)

I don't subscribe the theory that there is so many starts that intergalactic civilizations must be ubiquitous. The same perspective you could argue that Earth should be sterile, high number of stars means a supernova should have destroyed us by now. Or the number of stars in a galaxy is so huge, that when galaxies collide so do the stars, which actually doesn't happen in galactic collisions. Chances are that the problem of shortening the vastness of space is impossible to solve, life other than on Earth is as meaningless as the afterlife.

It's pride. (1)

WheelDweller (108946) | about 6 years ago | (#25439821)

Scientists don't have an explanation for creation- some 'big bang', then everything, despite the complexity 'just happened'. Since that's flawed logic, 'everything just happened on so many planets, we must be the only one that worked out'.

Right now Steven Hawking is trying to prove the existence of an infinite number of universes having been created just to support this silly irreducible complexity.

I keep hearing "our planet is common" and "there must be billions of other Earths out there" but no one seems to come up with any. If there really are _billions_ surely there are some near enough to have used radio for explanation, aye?

You can keep believing in this unsupported attempt to explain the Earth's lottery, or you can pick up one book that has been proven right each and every time: The Bible.

- The big bang was described as "Let there be light".
- It says the Earth "is suspended from nothing".
- Tells of the continental drift
- Makes reference to the world being round, and having daylight and dark at the same time.
- 110 civilizations have a 'flood story' in their ancient histories. It's detailed in the story of Noah.
- Recounts the development of plants, and that matches the fossil record.

Now I don't expect you to believe in God from a single posting. But what I'm asking for is that you don't discount the data source. Just be, shall we say, open-minded?

The website's kinda crappy, but the information is good: []

Heh Heh yeah, the Grays (0)

Orion Blastar (457579) | about 6 years ago | (#25439827)

sure love to fly their UFOs and give drunken farmers anal probes and mutilate their cattle and make crop circles.

Are we sure that they are smarter than us or just more technologically advanced than us but not smarter? Then again, maybe it is just their teenage UFO drivers playing pranks on us? ;)

Re:Heh Heh yeah, the Grays (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about 6 years ago | (#25439847)

The fact that they haven't contacted us proves that they are smarter than we are.

Draw Up the Papers (1)

JumperCables233 (916271) | about 6 years ago | (#25439829)

37,964's enough to start a Federation right?

Based on data from EA Spore (1)

No-Cool-Nickname (1287972) | about 6 years ago | (#25439849)

Of course, with DRM, we now own them all.

Isn't God the answer to this question? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25439861)

Certainly if enough "believers" pray about this, the answer will come to them and they can tell the rest of us the answer.

This method will help my highly religious sister believe it. She's been "taken" by one of the largest cults on Earth - the Catholic Church.

Suggestion for a Future Search Method (1)

DumbSwede (521261) | about 6 years ago | (#25439873)

Excellent timing, I just finished a 2,000 word essay in my Slashdot Journal on the Subject of SETI

SETI Augmented with Supernova Synchronization []

Speculation? Most aliens think we're idiots... (1, Interesting)

Eganicus (1374269) | about 6 years ago | (#25439889)

Why speculate on any hypothesis, which needs to be tested to be worth anything? (aka science) What's intelligent life, what is life? All big questions. Most of us on earth believe we are idiots, and have some intriguing evidence. ( Bush reelected, for example ) However; until you meet the thugs on Jupiter who can lift a tank, while being shocked with lightning and 200 mph wind.... maybe rednecks aren't so bad. I believe personally, our limited ideas are missing various things everywhere. Believing only the limited senses humans have can determine where life is. Existing behind everything, are things we cannot perceive. Dark matter, things beyond our microscopic visual, audible, sensory ranges exclude most of the universe. Let's start up our spaceships and take a look around kids! I'll start /. Alpha Centuri ( only 4 light years away ) We'll put a few on a friends list, chat, and /. Then they can discuss this with us... It's 2 ^16 making it 65,556 incidentally.

How many of that have stargates? (3, Funny)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | about 6 years ago | (#25439911)

How many of that have stargates?

All hail and praise the Federation Of Light! :p (2)

Henkc (991475) | about 6 years ago | (#25439937)

Was anyone else just a little sad that the bitches didn't arrive on the 14th a few days back?

What about T I M E ??? (1)

redelm (54142) | about 6 years ago | (#25439941)

Not only is space vast, but so is time. For how long can we assume that an ET civilization will be using/monitoring "conventional" EM band emissions? 1000 years? out of how many? 12 billion (reduced from 16 to allow for multi-generation stars)?

Already our own emissions have "degraded" from an easy-to-identify analog central-frequency, to digital spread-spectrum that is much more difficult to distinguish from white noise. Expect the redundancy to reduce, making identification harder.

Re:What about T I M E ??? (1)

danzona (779560) | about 6 years ago | (#25440065)

For how long can we assume that an ET civilization will be using/monitoring "conventional" EM band emissions?

That is the last term in the Drake equation. The Drake equation is not intended to be an estimate of the number of contactable civilizations that have ever or will ever exist, it is intended to be an estimate of the number of contactable civilizations right now.

To answer your question, I think that pessimists say 500 years, optimists say 10,000 years. But I didn't RTFA.

Absurb Extrapolation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25439977)

Can you really build a model and estimate the number of civilizations based on a single data point?

Slashdot comments (1)

OSS_ilation (922367) | about 6 years ago | (#25440049)

And 37,963 of those civilizations are more advanced than Slashdot commenters.

I guess that's not really news...

But, wait! (1)

Bunderfeld (1113805) | about 6 years ago | (#25440057)

How many of them have reached the Space Stage?

How many are still Tribal? Or Civ?

I think you should consult Will Wright about this!
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