Frank Drake featured in National Geographic magazine

image of Frank Drake from National GeographicImage credit: Mark Thiessen, National Geographic

Astrobiology and SETI research has grown significantly from its humble beginnings in 1960, when Frank Drake aimed a radio telescope from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank in West Virginia at Epsilon Eridani and Tau Ceti, in the hopes of detecting an extraterrestrial signal.

This month’s National Geographic magazine documents the growth of astrobiology, its early history, and some of Frank Drake’s significant contributions to the field. The following is an excerpt originally published on NationalGeographic.com

The Hunt for Life Beyond Earth by Michael D. Lemonick

It's difficult to pNational Geographic magazine July 2014 coverin down when the search for life among the stars morphed from science fiction to science, but one key milestone was an astronomy meeting in November 1961. It was organized by Frank Drake, a young radio astro­nomer who was intrigued with the idea of searching for alien radio transmissions.

When he called the meeting, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, "was essentially taboo in astronomy," Drake, now 84, remembers. But with his lab director's blessing, he brought in a handful of astronomers, chemists, biologists, and engineers, including a young planetary scientist named Carl Sagan, to discuss what is now called astrobiology, the science of life beyond Earth. In particular, Drake wanted some expert help in deciding how sensible it might be to devote significant radio telescope time to listening for alien broadcasts and what might be the most promising way to search. How many civilizations might reasonably be out there? he wondered. So before his guests arrived, he scribbled an equation on the blackboard. Read the rest of the article at National Geographic