Just How Many Alien Civilizations Could Be Out There?

By David Wharton | 9 years ago

As our advancing technology allows us to look deeper and deeper into space, and to do so with ever better resolution and detail, we continue to find other solar systems that contain planets. Scientists believe the planets we’ve found so far are a tiny percentage of how many are actually out there, so the optimistic amongst us believe that there simply must be alien life out there somewhere. But if there is, how many other civilizations might there be?

A very cool new interactive infographic has been posted by the BBC, which allows us to calculate several different estimates of how many alien civilizations might exist, both within our galaxy and within the universe. It begins with the Drake Equation, created in 1961 by astronomer Frank Drake to estimate how many “detectable civilizations” could exist in our galaxy. The Drake Equation’s estimates are the first option to use on the infographic, which walks you through each step of the math before arriving at a total: an estimated 18,750,00 communicating civilizations (broadcasting signals that we could theoretically detect) within the Milky Way, and a staggering 2,812,500,000 bn within the entire universe.

The Drake Equation isn’t the only method available on the infographic, either. You can also select “lowest estimated values,” which assumes no other civilizations in our galaxy, but still estimates 15,000 other civilizations in the universe. You can also select “today’s optimistic estimate” (72,800 civilizations in our galaxy; 10,920,000 bn in the universe) or “today’s skeptical estimate” (1 communicating civilization in our galaxy; 78 bn in the universe).

Hopefully we’ll be able to live long enough to see this question answered. If we’re alone in the universe, it does seem an awful waste of space. Click here to see the infographic. You can change up the various variables to see how the estimates change.