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New "Drake Equation" Selects Between Alien Worlds

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the fan-of-his-equation-and-breading dept.

Space 220

An anonymous reader writes 'A mathematical equation that counts habitats suitable for alien life could complement the Drake equation, which estimates the probability of finding intelligent alien beings elsewhere in the galaxy. That equation, developed in 1960 by US astronomer Frank Drake, estimates the probability of intelligent life existing elsewhere in our galaxy by considering the number of stars with planets that could support life. The new equation, under development by planetary scientists at the Open University in Milton Keynes, England, aims to develop a single index for habitability based on the presence of energy, solvents such as water, raw materials like carbon, and whether or not there are benign environmental conditions.'

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220 comments

The answer is... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29452461)

zero. Zero worlds containing intelligent life of any kind. Earth included.

Re:The answer is... (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452513)

But... I thought the answer was 42!

Re:The answer is... (1)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453367)

The answer can be calculated using the corollary to the Drake Equation as expressed here [xkcd.com] .

Re:The answer is... (3, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452603)

Ever been to Milton Keynes? I'd say your estimate is a little high.

Re:The answer is... (2, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452831)

Well, intelligence is relative. Compared to what we evolve into in the next ten million years we probably AREN'T intelligent.

But what about the dolphins?

Re:The answer is... (2, Interesting)

Fred_A (10934) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453015)

Well, intelligence is relative. Compared to what we evolve into in the next ten million years we probably AREN'T intelligent.

But what about the dolphins?

Very unlikely that there will be any dolphins in 10 million years...

Now cockroaches...

Re:The answer is... (1)

MBGMorden (803437) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453311)

It really depends. Dolphins certainly could be around in 10 million years depending on how suitable the environment remains for their current form. As you say cockroaches will still be around, but other species of fish and such (the bowfin and the gar) have also been around for extremely long periods of time too, because their current physical form has remain well suited to environmental changes.

Whether dolphins are that way I'm not sure, but I think humans have definately hit a point where our current physical form can adapt to environments easily enough that there is not much natural selection to change us much from an evolutionary standpoint anymore (in essence we've become what the cockroach is: a supremely adaptable organism that can survive almost anywhere).

The only changes I see in store for us now are things like the article posted a few weeks back where girls on average have been becoming "prettier", as prettier girls in general tend to produce offspring more often. That does puzzle me too though, as there's not a lot of correlation that I see between attractiveness of parents vs offspring in humans. Two pretty people seem perfectly capable of having an ugly child, and I've also seen two redneck mutants get together and pop out girls that could be supermodels. Oh well, I digress . . .
 

Re:The answer is... (1)

Gospodin (547743) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453683)

Whether dolphins are that way I'm not sure, but I think humans have definately [sic] hit a point where our current physical form can adapt to environments easily enough that there is not much natural selection to change us much from an evolutionary standpoint anymore (in essence we've become what the cockroach is: a supremely adaptable organism that can survive almost anywhere).

Considering how much evolution has occurred in humans in the past few hundred thousand years, an eyeblink on evolutionary scales, I think this assertion is far from "definite".

Re:The answer is... (1)

Jurily (900488) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453663)

Very unlikely that there will be any dolphins in 10 million years.

So long, and thanks for all the fish!

Re:The answer is... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29453563)

Intelligence != rich material culture (aka "civilization").

Former is unavoidable result of evolutionary arms race while latter is a just a quirk of random and unlikely circumstances leading to its origin.

In habitable places in universe, if we ever get to them, there will probably be life and if there is life there will probably be intelligent beings, like dolphins, dogs, parrots, etc. , but don't hold your breath for alien civilizations.

Re:The answer is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29453729)

Intelligence != rich material culture (aka "civilization").

Former is unavoidable result of evolutionary arms race while latter is a just a quirk of random and unlikely circumstances leading to its origin.

Replying to myself to clarify: rich material culture is a result of evolution failing to provide means of survival - something none would expect. We should had been extinct a long time ago, but we are still here and we run evolution of things and ideas instead of evolution of our own bodies. We were very lucky that Nature had it moderately easy on us when we were in transition between the two. A little harsher - we would had ended in the drink, regardless of our intelligence. A little easier - we would had adapted gracefully, without need for all this complication and artificial attachments. We would had been something like highly intelligent animals, but we would never get to the point to be able (or even get the urge) to leave our planet and visit other celestial bodies.

Re:The answer is... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29453209)

zero. Zero worlds containing intelligent life of any kind. Earth included.

Aw, how Emo. Go cut yourself and write a song about it..

Re:The answer is... (1)

tsa (15680) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453751)

Yeah but first take copious amounts of any drugs you can find. It makes the song so much better.

Re:The answer is... (1)

Rue C Koegel (1448549) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453245)

obviously true if u really needed to include: earth included!

Re:The answer is... (1)

codeButcher (223668) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453343)

Zero worlds containing intelligent life of any kind. Earth included.

Now now. You've clearly not read the summary, which talks about "intelligent alien beings elsewhere in the galaxy".

As if they have already found intelligent aliens on earth (or intelligent earthlings elsewhere in the galaxy, come to think of it).

Insightful? (3, Insightful)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453493)

Really? I would have thought the "Der! Hooman iz teh stoopid" posts would be Redundant around here by now. Or have they ascended (read: descended) to the rank of Obligatory?

And I always suspect most posts like that translate to "Other people dare to deviate from my perfect, genius opinions, dammit, and therefore humanity has no intelligence!"

Re:The answer is... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29453529)

Earth has no intelligent life if YOU are the only lifeform in that equation.

way to go Slashdot (2, Insightful)

koxkoxkox (879667) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452465)

"under developed" ?

In this case, maybe they should continue working on it before we talk about it, don't you think ?

Re:way to go Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29452891)

They should develop it a bit more.

Re:way to go Slashdot (1)

AmigaMMC (1103025) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453155)

Most likely a typo... "under development"

Seems silly (4, Interesting)

ruiner13 (527499) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452477)

based on the presence of energy, solvents such as water, raw materials like carbon and whether or no there are benign environmental conditions

Aren't there extremophiles on Earth that already lack some if not all of these attributes? Really, the presence of energy seems like the only real requirement for life here on Earth. Who knows what other extremes may lurk extra terrestrially.

Re:Seems silly (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29452557)

Screw you, dick-lick...

Re:Seems silly (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29453081)

No no, "extremophile" has nothing to do with that.

Re:Seems silly (5, Insightful)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452619)

based on the presence of energy, solvents such as water, raw materials like carbon and whether or no there are benign environmental conditions

Aren't there extremophiles on Earth that already lack some if not all of these attributes?

No.

No life without water and raw materials. And, as for "benign environmental conditions," that's a little under-defined, but in general, the entire Earth should be called "benign" by the standards of the rest of the solar system.

as the ambassador of (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29452799)

bobbledorm 7, I find your lack of faith disturbing. We need no solvents

Re:Seems silly (2, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452845)

It would be more accurate to say "No life, as we know it, without water and raw materials."

Re:Seems silly (2, Informative)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453041)

Well, true enough; we don't know what life as we don't know it would require.

The question I was replying to was one that began "aren't there extremophiles on Earth that...", but I should have made my reply more explicit, so if my reply was quoted without the original question, it would still be clear.

Re:Seems silly (1)

kinnell (607819) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453719)

It would be more accurate to say "No life, as we know it, without water and raw materials."

Or maybe even "No Life, as we define it"

Re:Seems silly (2, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453627)

No life without water and raw materials.

Uh, what? How do you know? No life as we know it. Life as we don't know it still might form an industrial civilization and make radios &c.

And, as for "benign environmental conditions," that's a little under-defined, but in general, the entire Earth should be called "benign" by the standards of the rest of the solar system.

Usually it means "within the range of temperatures and pressures we believe to be capable of supporting life" which is a useful but not inviolate metric.

Re:Seems silly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29453857)

No life without water and raw materials.

Uh, what? How do you know? No life as we know it. Life as we don't know it still might form an industrial civilization and make radios &c.

It is hard to create a radio without using either energy or matter (IE raw materials), especially considering "radio" is pure radiation and thus raw materials.

While one can not rule out the possibility of non-baryonic life forms, but by definition if they are non-baryonic then they can't possibly interact with us (being baryonic and made of matter), so while such a thing may exist, for all intents and purposes we can ignore it.

Similar to how we can't prove or disprove multiple universes exist, but as by definition our universe can not interact with them in any way if they do exist, there is only the rare reasons to even include them.

Re:Seems silly (1)

celtic_hackr (579828) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453865)

Um, sorry, there are lifeforms on earth that do not require water to live. we even have non-carbon based lifeforms. We have lifeforms living in the volcanic vents breathing the "toxic to humans" sulfurous gas in the depths of the oceans. There appears to be life on some of Jupiter's moons. So you'd want to include them as benign. Certainly, raw materials are required, but carbon based, water based lifeforms aren't the only options. Drake's formula is lacking, but since, we really have little experience in what other possibilities there are, it's a reasonable one to use. Especially if we are looking for places to possibly visit or colonize. Or just looking for those we consider a threat. Depends on you paranoia/socialization levels. not to mention there are lifeforms on earth perfectly happy to live in alcohols (No, I'm not referring to that species known as College Students). So solvent required? Yes. Water? No. At least to the depths of our current understanding.

Re:Seems silly (1)

No-Cool-Nickname (1287972) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452653)

I thought exactly the same thing. We have no idea if life requires carbon or even matter (ala "They're Made Out Of Meat" http://baetzler.de/humor/meat_beings.html [baetzler.de] ).

today is spelling optional day.

To communicate via writing, you must spell. Just not correctly. Perhaps "Today is spelling correctly optional day." would be more accurate.

Re:Seems silly (4, Informative)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452881)

A solvent (such as water) is needed as chemical reactions are too slow in the gas/solid phase. In addition water has a rare (if not unique) property in that it is the most dense at a point in its liquid phase, this means that at the bottom of a pool of water the temperature can remain pretty constant allowing living things to stay that way until they are capable of surviving at different temperatures.
A raw material (like carbon) is needed to build the backbone of life, it has to have many properties similar to carbon. While other setups are possible the chemistry prefers carbon (its a single chemical as compared to combos and it is very reactive) and the physics does too (there is more of it than the alternatives because its a light element).

oblig XKCD (4, Funny)

Arlet (29997) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452479)

Re:oblig XKCD (4, Insightful)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452559)

Would it be possible to use collaborative filtering, and meta data provided by xkcd to produce a "These xkcd strips may be obligatory for this article",
for sites such as slashdot?

Re:oblig XKCD (4, Funny)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452613)

Might be fun for one person to write the code, but it would destroy the ongoing joy of dozens of slashdotters who have indexed xkcd in their heads and can instantly recall the appropriate xkcd reference.

Some things are best left to trained artisans and handcrafters, and this is one of them. Xkcd references should be lovingly chosen from the available stock, and carefully hand-posted using only the best hand-cut-and-pasted letters in the URL. You just won't get that kind of artistry from an emotionless metadata comparison engine.

Re:oblig XKCD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29452987)

Might be fun for one person to write the code, but it would destroy the ongoing joy of dozens of slashdotters who have indexed xkcd in their heads and can instantly recall the appropriate xkcd reference.

Actually, XKCD has a search feature. So all we need to remember is that there IS a relevant comic, and what some words in that comic were.

Re:oblig XKCD (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453127)

That also makes it incredibly easy to write a script that goes through meta data and provides the proper comic strip.

Re:oblig XKCD (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453353)

There's also this thing called Google that happens to index websites like xkcd and allow you to search them.

I used it just now because linking directly to the picture means no alt text, which means you're missing half the fun.

Re:oblig XKCD (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29453739)

title text: But seriously, there's loads of intelligent life. It's just not screaming constantly in all directions on the handful of frequencies we search.

For those feeling left out...

Re:oblig XKCD (2, Funny)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452625)

Would it be possible to use collaborative filtering, and meta data provided by xkcd to produce a "These xkcd strips may be obligatory for this article",
for sites such as slashdot?

It's an editing problem.

The editor shouldn't have accepted the submission without the obligatory xkcd link.

Re:oblig XKCD (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453417)

That's always been my attitude. Some people trot out the Drake equation like it's some sort of holy writ not full of massive unknowns. Almost as bad as when people speak of Moore's "Law" taking care of something.

Evolution? (1)

schmidt349 (690948) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452481)

To what extent are "benign conditions" suitable to the formation of life? Without an environment that exerts selection pressure on existing organisms, there would be nothing driving the development of more complex and adapted organisms. Of course too much environmental volatility is a problem as well, but it can't just be a completely sealed biosphere or evolution could never happen.

Re:Evolution? (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452599)

Without an environment that exerts selection pressure on existing organisms, there would be nothing driving the development of more complex and adapted organisms.

In this sense, evolution is pretty much self-driving. Any organism must use resources. Any successful organism will eventually populate an area and consume all available resources. Any area where all resources are competed for drives evolution to use different resources instead.

Re:Evolution? (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453237)

Use different resources? I would say that when all resources are used, evolutions typical answer is not to use different resources, but to take those resources from someone else that is using it. Its called predation.

Re:Evolution? (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453737)

That's one possibility, yes. Not one I ruled out :)

Re:Evolution? (1)

amplt1337 (707922) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453415)

Or more simply, "any environment which contains another organism becomes hostile." ...man, no wonder I never had any friends in kindergarten.

"as we know it" clause (4, Interesting)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452503)

Hopefully they've detailed somewhere that they're only taking into account the habitability by known possible life forms.

There's no way of knowing whether there's an intelligent life form we've not detected yet, in this very planet. For as much as we know, Earth itself could be a "cell" of a galactic sized life form that has stars as neurons and light as nervous signals.

Gaia hippy shit (4, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452671)

Hey, Moonfruit, the sixties are over. If the planet was an organism it would have gone to the galactic doctor and got something to clear that nasty infection.

Re:Gaia hippy shit (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452763)

Hey, Moonfruit, the sixties are over. If the planet was an organism it would have gone to the galactic doctor and got something to clear that nasty infection.

It's still soon. The nasty infection only gave him some fever.

Re:Gaia hippy shit (1)

AlecC (512609) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452821)

And he therefore has a rising global temperature, which is the same mechanism the body uses to get rid of infections.

Re:Gaia hippy shit (2, Funny)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452857)

And he therefore has a rising global temperature, which is the same mechanism the body uses to get rid of infections.

Yes. That was, indeed, the joke.

Re:Gaia hippy shit (2, Funny)

russotto (537200) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452789)

Hey, Moonfruit, the sixties are over. If the planet was an organism it would have gone to the galactic doctor and got something to clear that nasty infection.

It has, but there's a wait for the procedure. About 65 million years.

Re:"as we know it" clause (1, Insightful)

DriedClexler (814907) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452917)

Right, except for that whole "speed of light" thing, puts a real damper on signal propagation between these stellar neurons.

Given the estimated age of the universe, such a nervous system could have gone through *maybe* the equivalent of a month of thought in a biological brain, which isn't much.

You'd be surprised how easy it is to rule out hypotheses like this.

Re:"as we know it" clause (4, Insightful)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453061)

Right, except for that whole "speed of light" thing, puts a real damper on signal propagation between these stellar neurons.

Given the estimated age of the universe, such a nervous system could have gone through *maybe* the equivalent of a month of thought in a biological brain, which isn't much.

You'd be surprised how easy it is to rule out hypotheses like this.

I'd be surprised indeed.

Will you do it?

Re:"as we know it" clause (1)

DriedClexler (814907) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453393)

I just did, but in case it wasn't clear: modeling the universe (or some mutli-stellar-level substructure) as a nervous system would at best predict that the universe has done a bio-equivalent month of thought, which tells us nothing about what we should expect to see, and therefore adds complexity to our model of physics without increasing its predictive power.

Re:"as we know it" clause (1)

worip (1463581) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453313)

To point out the obvious: your assuming that things must move quickly (or move on our timescales) to be useful...

Re:"as we know it" clause (2, Funny)

wwfarch (1451799) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452939)

But if the Earth is a "cell" then Smith was right.. we ARE a virus.

Re:"as we know it" clause (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453333)

He then went on to state being a "disease" and "cancer"

I wish he'd choose his metaphors more carefully.

Re:"as we know it" clause (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29453025)

There's no way of knowing whether there's an intelligent life form we've not detected yet

========================

But the equation doesn't include the question of detecting life. The problem with detecting life is that it involves commication. ie. Receiving a signal that demonstrates life. This doen't have to be an episode of some galactic soap opera, it can be the presence of oxygen as an example.

Now, this part of the equation will include an r^-2 term, where r is the distance to the planet. Now r's for known planets are large, and that means the probability is very low, and grows rapidly.

We are effectively alone.

Nick

Re:"as we know it" clause (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453065)

That is what I would bet on.

Until i hear a scientific reason to believe otherwise i see no reason why other intelligent life would be close enough to human for humans to consider it intelligent.

and about intelligent life on this planet, dogs supposedly can understand as many words as a 5 yo and dolphins are supposed to be very smart. But if we ever admit dolphins are smart enough to be considered intelligent then we would have to care when we killed them, so i do not see that happening any time soon.

So if we ever find some species that either: we know it is more powerful then us or their is more money to be made by considering it intelligent, then we will consider it an intelligent species. But if their is more money to be made enslaving/harvesting/killing these creatures and we can get away with it, no matter how intelligent it is, we will consider it a dumb animal.

Re:"as we know it" clause (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453185)

Elsewhere in the galaxy (3, Funny)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452507)

A mathematical equation that counts habitats suitable for alien life could complement the Drake equation, which estimates the probability of finding intelligent alien beings elsewhere in the galaxy

Lets see, Peru is in a different part of the galaxy than the US, even though by galactic standards it's REAL close. I talked to an intelligent alien* [slashdot.org] on the phone yesterday -- he was looking for his ex-wife, who's been living with me lately.

Of course, he's not a space alien, he's a human. The space aliens are in the ISS. They're human too.

*Well, he wasn't very intelligent on the night chronicled in the linked journal, but anger never made anybody very smart.

Re:Elsewhere in the galaxy (2, Funny)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452585)

I talked to an intelligent alien* on the phone yesterday -- he was looking for his ex-wife, who's been living with me lately.

I'm interested in your services and would like to know more. Please elaborate:

- How long was the ex-wife's stay?
- How much do you charge per ex-wife?

Re:Elsewhere in the galaxy (2, Informative)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452709)

Apropos your emo-diary, the "intelligent" drink-drive limit that sentients impose on themselves is zero.

Re:Elsewhere in the galaxy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29453101)

Fascinating! Tell us more, because this is the sort of self-indulgent off-topic bullshit Slashdot needs more of!

Re:Elsewhere in the galaxy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29453735)

Fascinating! Tell us more, because this is the sort of self-indulgent off-topic bullshit Slashdot needs more of!

It's like Family Guy!

Without the family and with more whores and crackheads.

Seriously, that journal makes me feel wonderful about my own life. I don't have any low-life scum in my life at all.

Let me get this straight (1, Flamebait)

moosetail (1635997) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452591)

We have Drake's equation which may be fundamentally sound, but the variables are truly guesswork. Now we are going to add another guesswork variable. Guesswork squared?

Re:Let me get this straight (1)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452665)

I don't know if I'd want to narrow it down that precisely. Could be squared, could be cubed, could be more accurate (guesses canceling each other out). The blithe assumption of it being merely "squared" on your part is mere, well, guesswork.

But I'm only guessing.

Re:Let me get this straight (1)

daid303 (843777) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452849)

I guessed that you where guessing, does that cancel each other out now?

Re:Let me get this straight (1)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452919)

Maybe.

Re:Let me get this straight (0, Offtopic)

moosetail (1635997) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452957)

> I guessed that you where guessing, does that cancel each other out now?

Parsing error on line 1.

Re:Let me get this straight (1)

moosetail (1635997) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452851)

Thank you for that well deserved admonishment.

Re:Let me get this straight (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29453397)

Guess work squared, sounds like quantum mechanics to me:

During a measurement, the probability that a system collapses from a given initial state to a particular eigenstate is given by the square of the absolute value of the probability amplitudes between the initial and final states.

Re:Let me get this straight (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29453637)

The Drake equation is not sound because the terms are not independent of each other. You need to multiply it by the correlation factor derived from each term acting with all the other terms.

% Good looking: 1
% Smart: 1

% Good looking and smart: 0.01 (if independent)
% Good looking and smart: 1 (max pos correlation)
% Good looking and smart: 0 (max neg correlation)

What about Earth's sidekick? (2, Interesting)

MollyB (162595) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452633)

I'm no expert, but isn't our "planet" really a binary system, since the Moon contributes so much to the habitability of the Earth by stabilizing our rotational axis?

I realize the precision needed to detect the tiny wobble of an exoplanet is beyond our present capacity, but shouldn't our search planning include factors like the above (if they don't already)? I'd greatly appreciate an informed opinion on this.

Re:What about Earth's sidekick? (2, Interesting)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452725)

How about an uninformed one?

We honestly don't know the conditions under which life could form. About the only thing that is certainly required is some source of energy, and even that doesn't necessarily need to come from sources we'd recognize. Of course, finding "life as we know it" is the most efficient because we'd be the best equipped to recognize it and possibly communicate with it. Finding "life as we understand it" would be somewhat less easy and less likely to communicate with, and "life as we can't possibly imagine it today" would probably just remain undetected. Do you KNOW if that shade of blue in your drapes is intelligent? How would you be equipped to recognize its motivations? You'd just think of it as a shade of blue and move on. Meanwhile, it's laughing at me. Maybe I'm the only one who can tell it's intelligent, or maybe I'm overdue for the yellow pill today.

So a detail like a moon, while important to some of the habitability concerns of our own oxygen-breathing selves, and especially important to species that have come to depend on the tides, is probably very unimportant in terms of the development of a life form. It may, however, be somewhat important if we find a dozen Earth-like planets, because picking the one with a moon might increase the chances of finding life ever so slightly similar to our own. Or it may turn out to be too insignificant a detail to even consider.

The moon is vital to the survival of many species on this planet, but certainly not all. And if the moon had never existed, there's a very good chance something alive would have evolved on this planet. It might or might not be exactly what we ended up with today, but there'd probably be something posting on slashdot right now (though it might be called tentaclesquib). :)

Re:What about Earth's sidekick? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29453109)

By your own hypothesis and what you are chiding the dude over you can not say 'there's a very good chance something alive would have evolved on this planet'. What if the moon is a shield to us for all the 'big enough' rocks to wipe everything out ever few hundred years (good evidence to that with the gigantic craters on the moon). As recently as last month people were watching meteor showers by looking at the moon and watching the impacts (I couldnt as it was rather overcast those days). But you cant say there is a 'good chance'. It could be the moon that set into motion many of the reactions needed for life? Many land animals probably would not exist (due to not bothering to learn how to exist in air as not having to because of low tide). Much of the water in the oceans would probably be solid ice. Also much of the atmosphere and oceans probably would have boiled off (much like mars). You just dont know either way...

Re:What about Earth's sidekick? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453223)

The moon isn't necessarily vital to life, but it is quite important to evolution. The tidal forces from the moon are responsible for churning up the crust and increasing the level of radioactivity on the planet's surface, increasing the mutation rate. Without it, or some equivalent mechanism, evolution would happen much more slowly. Equivalent mechanisms could include increased sunspot activity, for example.

Re:What about Earth's sidekick? (1)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453407)

Or more radioactive materials in the crust, which would be undetectable from distance. Or a different basis for life than DNA, which mutates under different circumstances.

But, yeah, point taken that a moon might be a differentiating factor when forced to choose which of a bunch of nearly-identical-looking planetary systems to commit to exploring, if we manage to develop that technology before we wipe ourselves out entirely. We'd stand a slightly better chance of understanding what we're looking at, and if there's no life there at all it might be more amenable to our own species at least, and that's a nifty consolation prize...

It'd be pretty low on my personal checklist if I had a superlight ship at my disposal. :)

Re:What about Earth's sidekick? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29452969)

I'm going to have to be a bit of an astronomy nazi here and point out that "binary system" isn't just a fancy term for "two big space things". They have to be orbiting around their common center of mass, not just one around the other.

Re:What about Earth's sidekick? (1)

K'Lyre (600056) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453227)

Not to be pedantic (well ok, maybe), but one orbiting around the other is still "orbiting around their common center of mass".

Re:What about Earth's sidekick? (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453323)

Woosh! Any time one object orbits another they will both be orbiting their mutual center of mass.

Equally worthless (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452651)

Without any idea of how life started HERE, we have no way of making any meaningful conjecture about how common life may be out there. Drake's equation, for all its apparent elegance, is essentially meaningless. Basically, we only know that somewhere between 1 and 10-to-the-12-power planets in the universe support life. This is all we can know now, and until we can understand conclusively how life began here, it's all just masturbation.

Re:Equally worthless (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452973)

Without any idea of how life started HERE

We have some idea of how life could start here. That's enough to work with.

until we can understand conclusively how life began here

That's right, keep moving the bar. Your comment is now internally contradictory.

it's all just masturbation.

Next time, cover your keyboard.

Re:Equally worthless (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453205)

Basically, we only know that somewhere between 1 and 10-to-the-12-power planets in the universe support life.

No, we don't know that at all. We only know one planet in the entire universe supports life and has life. We do not know of any planets similar to ours.

Re:Equally worthless (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453405)

It isn't supposed to be a conclusion, it is supposed to frame the discussion. It is reasonably effective at doing so (in that it lists a bunch of factors to consider, and presents the opportunity to think about the limits for each factor).

So the fact that life could be nearly impossibly rare gets to butt heads with the fact that the stars are nearly uncountable. And so forth.

Re:Equally worthless (1)

amplt1337 (707922) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453439)

until we can understand conclusively how life began here, it's all just masturbation.

...but if there's one thing people all over seem to be pretty interested in...

Michael Crichton's take on the Drake Equation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29452707)

Unfortunately, the Drake equation is bullshit, because there is no real way for to know most of the actual values that are in the Drake equation. But that doesn't stop people from thinking that it is somehow scientific.

Michael Crichton has a great essay on what happens when people start taking formulas that are impossible (currently) to solve and applies the same methodologies to other subject areas.

http://www.michaelcrichton.net/speech-alienscauseglobalwarming.html

Why do people keep thinking (1, Insightful)

selven (1556643) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452759)

that life requires carbon or water? Life on Earth does, but that's just because our planet happens to have a temperature which allows for liquid water, a large amount of water and an atmosphere which is 21% oxygen and 78% nitrogen. We have 4.5 billion years of experience with this kind of life but absolutely nothing in terms of any other form of life.

Re:Why do people keep thinking (1)

moosetail (1635997) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452911)

Because it is the best we have to go on right now. We can speculate all we want, but we have no model for how non-carbon based life forms would work. We barely have the technical capability to *possibly* detect the byproduct of life as we know it on another planet. To try to detect something we have no clue how it operates is impossible. So while you are technically correct that we don't know that carbon is the only basis for life, practically we need to make that assumption. For now.

Re:Why do people keep thinking (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453271)

Because we only care about two kinds of life:
  1. Life that is intelligent and we can communicate with.
  2. Life which creates a biosphere where we can live.

The second kind of life requires carbon and water. The first kind probably does. It definitely requires complexity, but it also requires complexity at the sorts of scales we are familiar with or the difference in time or distance perception will make communication impossible. How would you go about communicating with an intelligent dust cloud, for example, that had neurone-equivalents a light-second across and finished a complete thought every few years and couldn't perceive anything smaller than a planet?

Trek/Hitchhiker/South Park Mashup! (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453547)

1. Life that is intelligent and we can communicate with.
2. Life which creates a biosphere where we can live.

3. Life that creates sexy green alien women.
4. Where shall we take her out to lunch?
5. Profit! (Of a sort)

How would you go about communicating with an intelligent dust cloud, for example, that had neurone-equivalents a light-second across and finished a complete thought every few years and couldn't perceive anything smaller than a planet?

Patiently?

Re:Why do people keep thinking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29453631)

So what should we look for then?

May as well just roll dice. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29452809)

Apply scientific methodology to a completely unknown is really no more accurate.

At least it's better than... (1)

jgarra23 (1109651) | more than 4 years ago | (#29452947)

that lame-o Fermi Paradox.

I love how people act like some physicist's smart-alec remark is somehow gospel.

an untestable conjecture (2, Insightful)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453427)

Even if someone/thing was able to visit all the start systems and planets in our galaxy, they wouldn't come up with an answer. As the time it would take to do the measurement would be so long that civilisations would have been born, developed and vanished during the counting period. That alone would make the theory useless, and until we have the ability to detect even one other form of life: intelligent or not, there is not even one single calibration point.

Treat this as a bit of fun, but don't spend any money on it.

Love the Drake! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29453601)

Origin of life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29453703)

Many people use the giant number of suitable stars and planets to rationalize the question of likelihood away. But what if the development of life as it happened e.g. on Earth is itself a ridiculously complex and unlikely process, so unlikely that it may only have happened on a few or even just one of those many planets?

We know how to build many essential building blocks of life, and we are aware of many possible models to make them react in ways that could be beneficial to the development of life. But the fact remains that we don't understand how to put them together. Whatever early intermediate steps happened in Earth's past are gone. We can only speculate about early steps like protocells, RNA world, and so on. There is a huge "grabbag" of partial ideas, but no complete model.

One thing that speaks for easy origin of life is simply that it happened early in Earth's history (geologically speaking). However, there are still dozens of approaches to creating building blocks and putting them to use, and maybe it took a very unlikely combination of many of them to make it happen.

So the me the more interesting question is whether life arises "automatically" if you slap a few favorable processes together, or whether it takes a giant number of environmental parameters that have to act just right at just the right time.

Math = truth (1)

suitti (447395) | more than 4 years ago | (#29453765)

If you add 2 + 2 and get 4, you can say that this is true in a way that almost nothing else is true. And people seem to think that this means that math means truth.

But Frank Drake created his famous equation to organise his thoughts and get a handle on what is and isn't known. As time has moved on, we have gotten better estimates of the terms. For example, actually discovering 300+ planets around other stars gives us a handle on the fraction of stars with planets. And the Kepler mission should improve things even more. If Drake's equation did nothing more than inspire the launch of the Kepler mission, it would be very important indeed.

But as the Drake equation is filled in with better data, there's a next step. And it's interesting that people are thinking about what those next steps might be.

Attributed to Mark Twain: "There are liars. There are Damned Liars. And then, there are statistics."

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