SETI (pronounced [‘s?ti], to rhyme with “Betty”) stands for Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Interstellar travel allowing direct discovery and contact with intelligent aliens is a common theme in science fiction stories, but so far the obstacles to such journeys have been insurmountable. An alternative approach to achieving such a “first contact” is to survey the sky in hopes of finding transmissions from a civilization on a distant planet. However, such an effort has many obstacles. r. Frank Drake is the Director of the SETI Institute’s Center for the Study of Life in the Universe and also serves on the Board of Trustees of the SETI Institute as Chairman Emeritus. In 1960, as a staff member of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, he conducted the first radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences where he chaired the Board of Physics and Astronomy of the National Research Council (1989-92). Frank also served as President of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. He was a Professor of Astronomy at Cornell University (1964-84) and served as the Director of the Arecibo Observatory. He is Emeritus Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California at Santa Cruz where he also served as Dean of Natural Sciences (1984-88). In his spare time Frank enjoys cutting gem stones and growing orchids. Frank has three grown sons and two daughters in college. Both daughters are superb ballet dancers.
The Drake equation (also known as the Green Bank equation or the Sagan equation) is a famous result in the speculative fields of xenobiology, astrosociobiology and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. This equation was devised by Dr. Frank Drake in the 1960s in an attempt to estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy with which we might come in contact. The main purpose of the equation is to allow scientists to quantify the uncertainty of the factors which determine the number of extraterrestrial civilizations. The Drake equation is closely related to the Fermi paradox. It was cited by Gene Roddenberry as supporting the multiplicity of starfaring civilizations shown in Star Trek, the television show he created. The Drake equation states that:
N = The number of civilizations in The Milky Way Galaxy whose radio emissions are detectable.
R* = The rate of formation of stars suitable for the development of intelligent life.
f p = The fraction of those stars with planetary systems.
n e = The number of planets, per solar system, with an environment suitable for life.
fl = The fraction of suitable planets on which life actually appears.
f i = The fraction of life bearing planets on which intelligent life emerges.
f c = The fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space.
L = The length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.
SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is a scientific area whose goal is to detect intelligent life outside Earth. One approach, known as radio SETI, uses radio telescopes to listen for narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space. Such signals are not known to occur naturally, so a detection would provide evidence of extraterrestrial technology. Radio telescope signals consist primarily of noise (from celestial sources and the receiver’s electronics) and man-made signals such as TV stations, radar, and satellites. Modern radio SETI projects analyze the data digitally. More computing power enables searches to cover greater frequency ranges with more sensitivity. Radio SETI, therefore, has an insatiable appetite for computing power. Previous radio SETI projects have used special-purpose supercomputers, located at the telescope, to do the bulk of the data analysis. In 1995, David Gedye proposed doing radio SETI using a virtual supercomputer composed of large numbers of Internet-connected computers, and he organized the SETI@home project to explore this idea. SETI@home was originally launched in May 1999.