Astronomer addresses search for extraterrestrial intelligent life

Are we alone in the universe? How many stars have planets, and how many of these planets might support intelligent life? Frank Drake, the famed astronomer who conducted the first radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence, will describe his search for cosmic company at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, at the Chester Fritz Auditorium. The presentation is free and open to the public.

In 1960, Dr. Drake ran a two-week experiment to search for intelligent life beyond Earth at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, W.Va. He used an 85-foot diameter radio telescope to search for artificial signals from two nearby stars. Following this experiment, called "Project Ozma," Drake devised the famous “Drake Equation” that identifies specific factors thought to play a role in the development of intelligent civilizations in our galaxy. Although there is no unique solution to this equation, it is a generally accepted tool for estimating the prospects for intelligent life elsewhere.

In 1972, Dr. Drake collaborated with astronomer Carl Sagan on the design of the Pioneer plaque, a six-inch by nine-inch pictorial “message in a bottle” mounted on the Pioneer 10 spacecraft, which has left the solar system and is more than eight billion miles from Earth. The plaque describes what we look like, where we are, and the date when the Pioneer mission began, should the spacecraft ever meet up with extraterrestrials millions of years from now.

Dr. Drake also sent a message in 1974 from the Arecibo, Puerto Rico radio telescope to a cluster of stars. If it is received 20,000 years from now and a return message is sent, our descendants 40,000 years from now will detect it.

Dr. Drake is the director of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) 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. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences where he chaired the Board of Physics and Astronomy of the National Research Council. Drake is emeritus professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California Santa Cruz, where he also served as dean of natural sciences.

For more information, contact Karen Katrinak at the UND Center for People and the Environment, at 777-2482, or