Calculating the Number of ETIs

Introduction 

The possibility of estimating the number of communicative and non-communicative extraterrestrial intelligent civilizations exists. Beginning with the Drake equation and modifying it to predict non-communicative ETIs, the number of ETIs in the universe will be predicted.


Problem statement 

Given the existence of Earth civilization and the size of the universe it is perplexing that there has been no recognized ETI contact.  The current model for predicting ETI behavior not only assumes an Earth-like civilization, it also assumes Earth’s current level of technology represents a near epitome of development. This system model will make these same assumptions.


System model 

ETI, Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: Any anthropomorphic civilization capable of communicating by radio signals, whether intentional or unintentional.

Communication: Any artificial radio signal is theoretically detectable and therefore is an observable communication.

All ETI models draw heavily on Earth civilization as typical and so for the sake of argument, Earth civilization is sometimes referred to as an ETI rather than as a special case of intelligent life.


Related work

The Drake Equation 

Note: Here the term “ETI” is used in place of the original term “civilizations”

N = R* fp ne fl fi fc L

where
N of observable ETIs in the galaxy

R* average rate of star formation

fp average number of stars with planets

ne number of life capable planets per star with planets

fl fraction of life capable planets that developed life

fi fraction of living planets that developed into an ETI

fc fraction of ETIs that are emitting detectable signals

L length of time detectable signals are emitted

This model predicts the number of observable ETIs in the Milky Way and can produce almost any answer depending on the assumptions for each term of the equation.  The answer must be at least one since Earth civilization exists and is communicative, albeit unintentionally.  But the equation does suggest that with so many stars, even with low probabilities for the rest of the terms, an answer greater than one is almost certain.


Solution 

The Drake equation can be divided into four parts.  The rate of star formation, the likelihood of planets that can support life, the likelihood of life developing into observable ETIs, and the length of communication.
Extended to include all observable stars in the universe it becomes

N = Ru flc fi L

where
N number of observable ETIs in the universe

Ru average rate of star creation in the universe

flc fraction of stars with life capable planets

fi fraction of life capable planets that yield ETIs that become communicative

L average time during which ETIs are communicative

flc encompasses Drake’s original terms fp and ne

fi encompasses Drake’s original terms fl, fi and fc

L remains the same.

The average rate of star creation in the universe is

Ru = Ns / Tu

where
Ns number of stars in the universe

Tu age of the universe

Resolving L into two terms, length of a civilization and fraction of time spent communicating, yields

L = Lti ftc

where
L average time during which ETIs are communicative

Lti average length of time an ETI exists

ftc fraction of time an ETI is communicative during its existence

This equation yields an estimate of L that is exactly the same as in the original Drake equation but in two factors.


The Number of Observable ETIs in The Universe 

Combining the above equations gives

N = Ns flc fi Lti ftc / Tu

where
N number of observable ETIs in the universe

Ns number of stars in the universe

flc fraction of stars with life capable planets

fi fraction of life capable planets that yield ETIs that become communicative

Lti average length of time an ETI exists

ftc fraction of time an ETI is communicative during its existence

Tu age of the universe


The Total Number of ETIs in The Universe 

Assuming ETIs eventually become unobservable because their technology advances to a point where there are no emissions, the equation for total number of ETIs that exist is formulated by removing the term ftc.

N = Ns flc fi Lti / Tu

where all terms are as defined in the previous section.


Analysis 

This ETI model can not be experimentally verified because of the terms after flc.  The flc term can be astronomically observed but even if life generated elements are detected in a planet’s atmosphere it does not directly yield fi.  The fi term is related to the odds of intelligent, communicative-capable ETIs developing, not microbial life.  However, for this analysis it will be assumed that microbial life will always develop into an ETI eventually.

The most significant information that can be obtained from this analysis is a yes/no answer to the question of ETI existence.  The large numbers, such as the number of stars, will be kept to the low end of the observations and estimated data will be kept to whichever extreme that precludes ETIs.

Estimate of Observable ETIs in the Universe

Ns = at least 7 x 10^20 stars

flc = at least 1 / 100 billion stars

fi = assumed to be 1.0

Lti ftc = at least 100 years

Tu = no more than 14 billion years

Therefore
N = at least 50 observable ETIs in the universe

Estimate of Total ETIs in The Universe 

Ns = 7 x 10^20

flc = 1 / 100 billion

fi = 1.0

Lti = at least 100,000

Tu = 14 billion

Therefore
N = at least 50,000 ETIs in the universe


Conclusions 

Notice the low probability of life capable planets used.  This was done to weigh against the huge number of stars. Even when the number of stars in the universe is set to the low end of observations, it is extremely large. However, the low probability of life capable planets used does mean there would likely be only one ETI in the entire galaxy, specifically Earth.

The analysis assumed microbial life always evolves into an ETI since that is true of Earth. It sets the length of communication period to 100 years since Earth civilization has been communicating roughly that long. The length of ETI existence is estimated at Earth’s current 100,000 years. Considering the estimates used, these results for N are large enough to be virtual certainties, but small enough to be unoberved. The fact that the answer is greater than zero, despite the extreme estimates used in the modeling factors, means Earth civilization can be presumed to be one of many ETIs.

This model fails to use current trends to predict Earth civilization’s future development and apply this prediction to the ETI model. It is unlikely that current Earth civilization is near the epitome of development.

For a theory of how ETIs may develop, read the page The UETI Model.

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