Frank Drake’s Inventions, Early Life, Education and History
Frank Drake is an American astronomer, astrophysicist, and pioneer of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). He is best known for his inventions such as the Drake equation, the Arecibo message, and the Pioneer plaque. He is also known for his contributions to radio astronomy, planetary science, and optical SETI.
Early Life and Education
Frank Drake was born on May 28, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois, USA. He was the son of Dean Drake, an engineer, and Beatrice Drake, a teacher. He had a sister named Jean Drake. He developed an interest in astronomy and radio at an early age, and built his own radio telescope when he was 17.
Drake attended Cornell University, where he studied physics and astronomy. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1952. He then joined the US Navy, where he served as an electronics officer and learned about radar and communication systems. He also attended Harvard University, where he obtained his master’s degree in 1953 and his PhD in 1958. His doctoral thesis was on the detection of thermal radiation from Jupiter.
Inventions and Discoveries
Drake was involved in several inventions and discoveries in the field of astronomy and SETI. Some of his inventions and discoveries are:
- The Drake equation: This is a mathematical formula that estimates the number of active and communicative civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy. Drake proposed this equation in 1961 at a conference at Green Bank Observatory, where he invited various experts to discuss the possibility and methods of SETI. The equation consists of seven factors that multiply together to give the final result. The factors are: the rate of star formation, the fraction of stars with planets, the number of habitable planets per star system, the fraction of habitable planets that develop life, the fraction of life that becomes intelligent, the fraction of intelligent life that develops communication technology, and the average lifetime of a communicative civilization.
- The Arecibo message: This is a binary-coded message that was sent to space in 1974 from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. The message was designed by Drake and his colleagues Carl Sagan, Frank Salisbury, and others. The message contained information about the human species, the solar system, the DNA molecule, and the Arecibo telescope. The message was aimed at a star cluster called M13, which is about 25,000 light-years away from Earth.
- The Pioneer plaque: This is a metal plaque that was attached to the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecrafts that were launched in 1972 and 1973 respectively. The plaque was designed by Drake and Sagan as a greeting card to any extraterrestrial beings that might encounter the spacecrafts. The plaque depicted a naked man and woman standing next to each other, along with a schematic representation of the solar system, the location of Earth relative to 14 pulsars, and a symbol of the hydrogen atom.
Philosophy and Writings
Drake was also a prolific writer who wrote several books and articles on astronomy and SETI. Some of his most influential works are:
- ‘Intelligent Life in Space’: This is a book that was published in 1962 that summarizes Drake’s views on the existence and nature of extraterrestrial intelligence. The book covers various topics such as the origin and evolution of life, the conditions for intelligence, the methods of communication, and the implications for humanity.
- ‘Is Anyone Out There?’: This is a book that was co-authored by Drake and Dava Sobel in 1992 that narrates Drake’s personal and professional journey in SETI. The book also discusses some of the challenges and controversies that surround SETI, such as funding, ethics, and religion.
- ‘Project Ozma’: This is an article that was published in Physics Today in 1961 that describes Drake’s first attempt to search for extraterrestrial signals using radio telescopes. The project was named after the princess of Oz in L. Frank Baum’s novels. The project targeted two nearby stars, Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani, but did not find any evidence of alien transmissions.
History and Legacy
Drake had a long and distinguished career in astronomy and SETI. He worked at various institutions such as Harvard University, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Cornell University, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the SETI Institute. He also founded the International Academy of Astronautics SETI Permanent Committee in 1982, and served as its chairman until 2010.
Drake is widely regarded as one of the most influential and visionary thinkers of all time. He is credited with initiating the scientific and systematic search for extraterrestrial intelligence and creating a universal language of science and mathematics that can communicate with any intelligent beings in the universe. His works have inspired and influenced many scientists, philosophers, writers, and artists, such as Stephen Hawking, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Steven Spielberg, and Paul Davies.