On Friday, September 2, 2022, at the age of 93, American astronomer Frank Drake, who became one of the pioneers of the search for radio signals from extraterrestrial civilizations, died. He is also one of the creators of the records for the Pioneer and Voyager probes and the Arecibo radio message, according to the SETI Institute website.
Frank Drake graduated from Cornell University in Electronics Engineering, where he also studied astronomy. It was there that he became interested in the search for extraterrestrial life, after he attended a course of lectures by astronomer Otto Struve on planetary systems. Subsequently, after serving in the army, he entered graduate school at Harvard University in radio astronomy, and after graduating, Drake began working at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. The subject of his first research was, in particular, Jupiter and neutron star pulsars.
In 1960, Drake developed and implemented the first observational program under the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project, called Project Ozma in honor of one of the characters in Frank Baum's books. As part of it, a 26-meter ground-based radio telescope for several weeks observed the stars Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani close to the Sun at frequencies close to the radio emission line of neutral hydrogen in the Milky Way (1420 megahertz), which can be known to any technically advanced civilization.
In 1961, Drake derived the Drake Equation, which relates the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in the galaxy capable of establishing communication with Earth to seven parameters, five of which describe environmental conditions in the galaxy, and two of which relate to the civilizations themselves. This equation is considered the second most famous equation in science after Einstein's formula.
The fruits of Drake's work together with astronomer Carl Sagan, who was also one of the pioneers of the search for extraterrestrial life, are also widely known. In 1972, scientists developed the design of the records installed on board the Pioneer probes, and subsequently worked on the contents of the gold plates for the Voyager missions and figured out how to use recording technology to engrave not only sounds and music, but also images onto the record. And in 1974, a radio signal called the “Arecibo Message” was sent in the direction of the globular star cluster M13 in the constellation Hercules, the main authors of which were also Drake and Sagan. Drake went on to work at both the Arecibo radio telescope and the University of California, and was also a long-time president of the SETI Institute.
We talked about why creating a language for contact with aliens is still an impossible task, we talked about in our blog.