He lived to be 92 years old. He developed the equation of the same name to calculate the number of intelligent extraterrestrial species that could be detected in our galaxy.
Frank Drake, the American astronomer and astrophysicist who pioneered the search for extraterrestrial life, has died at the age of 92 at his home in Apos, California. Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and Astrophysics and former Dean of the Department of Natural Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, he was born in Chicago on May 28, 1930, and in his lifetime was the founder of the scientific field engaged in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), development of the Drake equation, which became fundamental to scientists’ search for extraterrestrial life. His contributions are numerous: he made the first observations of Jupiter’s radiation belts and was one of the first astronomers to measure the temperature of Venus’ surface and the greenhouse effect of its dense atmosphere. Drake served as director of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, as well as becoming a mentor and inspiration to generations of astronomers and astrophysicists. ” When the history of science is written in a few hundred years after we discover intelligent life beyond Earth, which I absolutely believe we will at some point, I think Frank will take a place among the greatest scientists ever the life. – said astrophysicist Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center at the University of California at Berkeley -. It was great to get the chance to meet him“.
Drake cultivated his passion for space throughout his education. He graduated in engineering physics from Cornell University in 1951 and joined the Navy ROTC program, serving from 1952 to 1955 as an electronics officer in the United States Navy. He then studied astronomy at Harvard University from 1955 to 1958, earning his doctorate and serving as an advisor to Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, the astrophysicist who first proposed that stars were made mainly of hydrogen and helium.
During his years at Harvard, while observing the Pleiades star cluster with a radio telescope, he discovered a strange signal that appeared to move along the cluster, which turned out to be a transmission from a nearby amateur radio operator. However, this led Drake to calculate whether an artificial radio signal could be coming from the distant star system. After earning his doctorate, he worked at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Green Bank, West Virginia, where he installed new telescopes and made his pioneering observations of Jupiter and Venus. . In 1960, using the observatory’s Tatel telescope, he embarked on what he called Project Ozma, developing the Drake Equation and the Arecibo Message, a digital encoding of an astronomical description and biology of Earth and its life forms for transmission in the cosmos.
Drake’s equation for calculating the number of intelligent alien species
Drake devised the equation in 1961 to estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations detectable in the Milky Way based on the values of certain variables. These variables included the number of planets orbiting other stars and the probability of life occurring on a given planet, as specified below:
N = R * x fp x ne x fl x fi x fc x L
N (number of civilizations detectable in the Milky Way), R* (birth rate of stars), fp (fraction of stars hosting planets), ne (number of habitable planets per planetary system), fl (fraction of planets where life evolves) fi (the fraction of life that develops intelligence), fc (the fraction of intelligent life that develops communication technologies), l (the average time in which civilizations can be detected).
” At that time he obviously had no idea what this equation would become, what it would represent – explained Drake’s daughter, Nadia, a contributing writer National Geography -. The fact that people have it tattooed on their bodies and that it is regularly cited as one of the most famous equations in science has always amused him.“.
After his tenure at NRAO, Drake also worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as head of its lunar and planetary science section, and in 1964 he joined the astronomy faculty at Cornell University. He was also director of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico from 1966 to 1968 and of Cornell’s National Center for Astronomy and Ionosphere, which directed the Arecibo Radio Telescope, from 1971 to 1981.
During his tenure, Drake oversaw upgrades to Arecibo, originally built to monitor the upper atmosphere for missile defense research, and to make the observatory more suitable for astronomical research, overseeing the installation of a new surface on the telescope’s massive dish , which made the instrument much more sensitive, as well as the addition of a powerful new radar capable of detecting the movements of asteroids and other planetary bodies. In 1974 he engineered the Arecibo message, the first interstellar message intentionally transmitted from Earth, sent to the globular cluster M13 about 22,000 light years from Earth, as a demonstration of human technological achievement rather than a genuine attempt to enter contact with aliens.
He also helped design the Pioneer plate, a pictorial message installed on the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecraft that included an illustration of a man and a woman, our solar system, and a map showing the sun’s position in the galaxy and later served as technical director with Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan in the creation of the Voyager Golden Record carried on the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft. Drake served as associate director of the Cornell Center for Radiophysics and Space Research, in as director of the Arecibo Observatory. from 1966 to 1968 and as director of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC), which includes the Arecibo facility, from its founding in 1971 to 1981.
In 1984, Drake left Cornell in 1984 and moved with his family to California, where he began working as dean of the science department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. When he resigned from that position in 1988, he remained a professor and was recruited to the new SETI Institute, where he served as chairman of the board and director of its Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe. Drake retired from teaching in 1996.
Numerous academic awards, as stated in the University of California, Santa Cruz obituary: fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, member of the National Academy of Sciences, president of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, chairman of the National Board of Trustees of the Physics and Astronomy Research Council and vice president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.