Frank Drake, The Founder of the Drake equation dies at 92; Here’s how his discoveries advanced the search for Extraterrestrial lifeforms

Frank Drake, the American astrophysicist, and radio astronomer died on September 2 at 92. Drake is best known for his work on the search for extraterrestrial lifeforms on other planets. He also made other notable discoveries that made him popular in the science community. What Discoveries Did Frank Drake Make? Why will Drake’s discoveries play a role in advancing the search for extraterrestrials? Are we close to finding other Alien live forms? Continue reading to learn more about Drake’s discoveries.

Frank Drake Early Life

Since humanity began to look towards the Cosmos, we have always wondered if we are all alone or cohabiting this Vast universe with other civilizations. However, Frank Drake’s contributions to science drew us closer to unveiling more hidden mysteries about the universe. Drake’s legendary moves could be traced back to when he was born.

On May 28, 1930, Frank Drake was born in Chicago, Illinois, USA. At the age of eight, he began the wonder about the chances of lives existing on other planets when his father revealed to him that other worlds exist in space. However, Drake’s father was actually referring to other planets in the solar systems and beyond.

But the young Drake began to imagine these worlds as Earth-like planets with extraterrestrial beings living across them. The quest to learn more about the Cosmos inspired him to enroll at Cornell University to study astronomy. While at the University, Drake began to research further extraterrestrials.

After receiving a lecture about the possibility of extraterrestrial life from astrophysicist Otto Struve in 1951, he became more inspired to learn more about the existence of life outside Earth. After he received a B.A. in Engineering Physics, Drake worked shortly as an electronics officer on the USS Albany cruiser. He later enrolled at Harvard University starting from 1952 to 1955. Drake completed his studies at Harvard and received an M.S and Ph.D. in Astronomy.

What Discoveries Did Frank Drake Make?

After school, Drake began his career at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), located in Green Bank, West Virginia. Here, he used the radio telescope to map out the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. This was the first time anyone has ever mapped the galactic center of our home galaxy. Drake went on to discover the ionosphere and magnetosphere of Jupiter.

He also studied the atmosphere of planet Venus and made some notable discoveries about it. The quest to advance his search for extraterrestrials inspired Drake to seek approval from the director of NRAO to conduct Project Ozma, which was intended to find extraterrestrial radio communications. In April 1959, his request was granted and Drake commenced officially with the project.

In the 1960s, Drake began to use the NRAO 26-meter radio telescope to determine the search for signals that might be coming from distanced star systems like the Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani Star Systems. After months of measuring extraterrestrial signals coming from these star systems without success, the project was dissolved in July 1960. A then graduate student named Carl Sagan heard about the fascinating works Drake was doing with Project Ozma. He contacted Drake immediately for possible collaboration in the hunt for extraterrestrial signals.

How Frank Drake Discovered the Drake Equation

During the Summer of 1961, Drake received a phone call from Peter Pearman that transformed his life forever. At that time, Peter Pearman was working as a biologist on the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Science. Pearman had already heard about Project Ozma and he anticipated working with Drake to advance the search for Alien Life forms.

Pearman and Drake planned a conference that will host at the Green Bank to promote the search for extraterrestrials on other planets. They invited some notable scientists at that time to attend the conference. Drake was asked to prepare the conference topics. As he does this, he realizes that every essential topic could be expressed as a number. While making further research, Drake discovered that this number could be compiled into today’s popular Drake Equation. He when ahead to describe the Drake Equation as follows.

The Drake Equation

N = R*·fp·ne·fl·fi·fc·L


N stands as the number of detectable civilizations in space

R* stands as the rate at which new stars form

fp stands as the fraction of stars with planets

ne stands as the number of planets per star where conditions are suitable for life

fl stands as the fraction of planets where life actually emerges

fi stands as the fraction of life-containing planets where an intelligent civilization develops

fc stands as the fraction of intelligent civilizations that produce communications technology we can detect

L stands as the length of time the communicating civilization remains detectable.

What Happened Next After Frank Drake Discovered the Drake Equation?

Drake created the Drake equation to determine the number of extraterrestrial civilizations that may be noticeable in the Milky Way galaxy. The Drake equation gained popularity over time and many scientists were inspired by the fascinating works of the legendary astronomer. After Drake worked shortly at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1963 as section chief of Lunar and Planetary Science, he went back to Cornell University in 1964.

Drake was later made a professor of Astronomy in 1976. Drake partnered with Cal Sagan and Linda Salzman Sagan in 1972 to design the Pioneer Plaque. The plaque was designed as a physical message which can be easily decoded and interpreted by any technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilization. In 1974, Drake proceeded to write the Arecibo message, which was the first interstellar message sent intentionally into space from Earth, hoping that an extraterrestrial lifeform will receive the signal.

Drake worked as technical director, alongside Sagan and Ann Druyan in creating the Voyager Golden Record which was carried by the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts into Interstellar Space. Between 1966 and 1968, Drake worked as the director of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC). This gave him the access to Arecibo Facility from 1971 to 1981.

Later in 1984, Drake began to work as dean of Natural Sciences at the University of California after leaving Cornell. On November 30, 1984, The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute was established to understand the origin of life in the universe. Drake was one of the pioneer scientists that played a role in the foundation of this institute.

In 1988, Drake resigned from the University of California and continued working as a professor and the president of the board of trustees of SETI. From this point of his life, Drake held several notable positions before retiring from teaching in 1996. But he continued to serve on the SETI Institute’s board of trustees, even after he retired from Carl Sagan Center in 2010.

Drake has continued to attend conferences, and interviews to share his fascinating ideas about the universe with the science community. Until his death on September 2nd, 2022 due to natural causes, Frank Drake lived a fulfilling life and was blessed with five children. The world is so fascinated with his works that Asteroid 4772 Frankdrake was named after him.


The contributions of legendary astronomer Frank Drake will never be erased from the history of humanity. Future civilizations will surely use the Drake equation to advance extraterrestrial life and move humanity closer to understanding the universe we live in. What do you think about Frank Drake’s Discoveries about the Cosmos?

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