By Maddie Stone If there’s intelligent life in the cosmos, it’s probably nowhere we can get to anytime soon. At least that’s the finding of the astrobiologist who, for the first time in decades, has rendered a major update to the key formula scientists use to seek out interstellar life. That’d be the Drake equation, which was developed over half a century ago to determine where life might lurk in the universe. Until now, the formulation that promises to pin down the number of intelligent civilizations in the cosmos has suffered one big limitation: There’s been no actual data to constrain most of its parameters. All that’s been changing since numbers started coming in from the Kepler mission over the past few years. We now know that small, Earth-sized planets are scattered throughout the galaxy, and that many lie within the habitable zone of a Sun-like star. Using the new Kepler data, astrobiologist Amri Wandel did some calculations to estimate the density of life-bearing worlds in our corner of the universe. The exciting news is there are probably millions to billions of biotic planets in the Milky Way. But before we start packing our bags, a sobering reality check: Our corner of the cosmos may be dark. Wandel’s math shows the closest life-bearing world is ten to a hundred light years distance from Earth. And that’s just to find a world that harbors single-celled life. The closest intelligent aliens may be thousands of light years further. Wandel’s findings, which will be published next year in the International Journal of Astrobiology, were released in pre-print yesterday. He restricted his analysis to Earth-sized planets within their star’s habitable zone—that is, the zone that’s neither too hot nor too cold for Earth-like organisms to potentially evolve. More via Motherboard.
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