FARMKETEERS & ‘CREEKNIKS: We are in this together. We, the bumbling peoples of Earth, have only each other. We are floating alone through spacetime. Or are we? In this week’s Fresh Crop Alert, we tackle that cosmic conundrum by pondering the famous Drake Equation, first introduced in 1961 by Cornell astronomer Frank Drake to estimate the odds that we will find “E.T.” – an active extraterrestrial civilization that is pumping out signals. We will walk you through each term of the equation. When you get to the bottom of the newsletter, you will have gotten to the bottom of this galactic gobsmacker. Thus, following on the heels* of the Women in Science Issue, we bring you the Intelligent Life in the Universe Issue. (*Not HIGH heels, necessarily, unless that’s your jam.)
Step 1 – You start with the rate of star formation in our galaxy. There are about 200 billion stars in the Milky Way. That’s 200 million thousand, or 200 thousand million, however you prefer to say it. New stars get born all the time. And the galaxy is currently colliding with dozens of dwarf galaxies. Those stellar smashups cause the creation of even more new stars. So the rate of star formation is approximately… who knows? Tough for a farmer to put her finger on. Anyway this poor pumpkin, Jack, tried to eat one cider donut for each star in the galaxy. Supernova tummy ache. Jack will be sitting out the rest of the season. But the PUMPKIN SALE must go on. Pick any 5 for $25. Pick any 12 for $50. Any size. Pick them in the field or grab them at the farm stand. We have 6 DAYS to move every pumpkin off the farm. Nobody cares about pumpkins as of October 32nd. Please come pick pumpkins nowww.
Step 2 – Take the fraction of stars that have planets. Recent studies suggest an average of 1.6 planets per star in the Milky Way, making about 320 billion planets right here in our neighborhood. That’s 320 BILLIONNN planets. Just in our galaxy. Let’s celebrate this dizzying thought with an expanded weekday Brussels sprout sale. Cut your own sprouts for $5/stalk, or 5 stalks for $20, through Friday, October 26. Weekend weather is going to be barfy, so get out here before Saturday. Thank you to Farm Fan @ketosaurusmom for the Brussels-Bacon inspiration. They look cruciferous, delixerous, and nutrishilous. Everyone, please come lop sprouts.
Step 3 – How many of those planets are suitable for supporting life? It’s not an easy number to estimate. You can start with the Habitable Exoplanets Catalog. If that is confusing, or if the very word ‘exoplanets’ makes you nervous, come back down to earth by browsing our Fruit Tree Catalog. If you find that confusing too (you’re not alone), then why don’t you come pick apples? Over 20 kinds of apples are ready to pick now! Mutsu, Red Spy, Northern Spy, Prairie Spy, Spigold, Rome Beauty, Fuji, Splendour, Enterprise, Sundance, Winecrisp, and heirlooms. Only a couple weeks left as the crop diminishes and we have to pick the remainders before they drop with the cold nights. Everyone, please come help us harvest this brilliant apple crop, best we ever had.
Step 4 – The fraction of suitable planets on which life actually appears. Somehow you figure out that number. It could be lots. Like wayyyy zillions lots. Or it could be a big goose egg. A cosmic DONUT. Zero. Zilch. And we’re alone. Either way, donuts are served fresh and usually warm every Saturday and Sunday 10 AM to 6 PM. The galaxy will not last forever. Neither will donut season. Come get.
Step 5 – The fraction of planets with life that actually go on to develop intelligent life (civilizations). That’s when things get really BONKERS. Intelligent liiiiifeeee! On other planets. Maybe. Let’s celebrate this outrageous notion by revealing a secret! If you are the first one to find the super-special apple tree called “Bonkers,” you can pick its apples free! Just tear off the tag and bring it to the farm stand as proof of your great discovery. You will get permission to pick those apples free. Share the apples with friends and passersby. Remember, we are all in this together, drifting round the sun at 67,000 miles per hour. Pretty funny that we (intelligent life) didn’t even know we were ON a planet til fairly recent history. That’s just simply bonkers! Thank you Farm Fan Mahnaz for these lovely photos.
Step 6 – The fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space. Now we’re talking. Or rather, they’re talking and we’re listening. You can bet your bottom bushel that when we hear the first crackly alien voice come over the intercom at Arecibo, we’ll serve FREE fresh-pressed Orchard Ambrosia (Nectar of the Dogs Gods) to Faithful Farmketeers! We’re not just waiting passively. Arecibo sent a message to outer space back in 1974, aiming for the star cluster M13, and it will take about 21,000 years for the signal to get there. And another 21,000 years to get an answer back. Meanwhile, you can buy gallons and 1/2 gallons of fresh-pressed unpasteurized cider during the season til the fruit is gone. It’s 100% fruit. No sugar added. Nothing added. Just apples and pears, cold-filtered into jugs. Come get fresh sweet cider, it freezes great for winter storage.
Step 7 – The final factor: The length of time those civilizations release detectable signals into space. Intelligent life has the capacity to destroy itself. Civilizations come and go. You might have a real smart “people” start sending signals into space, then those “people” wipe themselves out by fighting or spewing greenhouse gases or getting SQUASHED by a meteor… and only then the signal reaches us here on earth. Or doesn’t. Good news is we have plenty of squash. Delicata, butternut, sweet dumpling, acorn, blue hubbard, pie pumpkins. Come get your winter squashes for rainy day soupings & bakings.
CONCLUSION: What are the odds we will find intelligent life in the universe? What does the Drake equation tell us? Well you multiply all 7 of those terms to get the answer. The multiplication is easy. Trouble is, it’s hard to get those numbers. It’s not PURE conjecture, because we have some initial data, but the real data will take years to collect. Centuries, even. You can read about the Drake equation and suggested modifications. Some results come out way less than 1, meaning we’re alone. Other estimates say there are millions and MILLIONS of intelligent civilizations out there. Farming is a numbers game – how many pumpkins should we plant? how many apples will drop before Farmketeers pick them? – so we’re pretty handy with a calculator. Our thinking says: With some 300,000,000,000 stars in our galaxy, and some 200,000,000,000 galaxies in the universe… we have the best Farmketeers anywhere. Thank you to @colls_801 for the sweet photo.
Weekend weather could be a soaker. 100% rain on Saturday. But we’ve had rain every weekend for a few weeks, and you helped us hit record weekends every time. Thank you! Please come keep us company by the wood stove. We need your help to finish the pumpkin harvest before Halloween and pick all the apples before they drop. Thanks to @cristina.brownn for this great photo, and thanks to @roxyjindo for that next one.
Love to y’all. Hope to see you at The ‘Creek.