The Drake equation is a famous equation first put forward by Frank Drake, a radio astronomer, in 1960. It attempts to answer the question: "How many ET civilization might there be out there for us to hear from?". The equation is simple algebra but the problem was nobody had much of a clue as to what value to put in for all the variables.
Two of the factors in this equation got a little bit closer to being nailed down this week. NASA has had it's Kepler space observatory surveying more than 150,000 stars and this week they announced that Kepler had found likely planets around over 1200 of them. That means, if the little patch of sky that Kepler surveyed is a good sample, then the f(p) in Drake's equation is something around 0.008
. NASA also found amongst the data what they think might be 5 Earth-like rocky planets in just the right orbits to be hospitable to life. This would set the value of n(e) to something like 0.00416
. Not enough yet to solve Dr. Drake's equation but making progress. The last three terms --defining how many planets have technological intelligent life that doesn't wipe itself out -- are likely to take much much longer to nail down. Unless....