Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Fermi Paradox/Drake Equation
Name: N/A
Status: N/A
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 1991 

I am not sure whether this is physics or not but, what is the Fermi Paradox? and what is the Drake Equation. I would be happy if anyone could give some insight to this.

I have not heard of, and cannot find any reference to, Fermi's paradox. Can you give any more information (like where you heard or read of it)? Drake's equation is named for the astronomer Frank Drake, who came up with it in 1961. It attempts to estimate the number N of currently extant civilizations in our galaxy that would be able to contact each other. I will quote from p. 684 of the astronomy text "Exploration of the Universe" by Abell, Morrison and Wolff. They write the equation as N = (R_s)(f_p)(n_p)(f_b)(f_i)(f_c)(L_c) "where R_s is the rate of star formation in the Galaxy, f_p is the fraction of those stars with planetary systems, n_p is the mean number of planets suitable for life per planetary system, f_b is the fraction of those plan- ets suitable for life on which life actually developed, f_i is the fraction of those planets with life on which intelligent organisms have evolved, f_c is the fraction of those intelligent species that have developed communica- tative civilizations, and L_c is the mean lifetime of those civilizations. The first three factors are essentially astronomical in nature, the next two are biological, and the last two are sociological. We are able to make some educated estimates regarding the astronomical factors, we may be on shaky ground with the biological ones, and we are almost playing numbers games in trying to estimate values for the last two." All 3 of the texts I use for reference discuss this topic, so more info should be easy to find.


A fellow Newtonian, rgstrickert, was kind enough to fill me in on the Fermi's Paradox question via Newton mail. I will quote from his note: I think Fermi's Paradox refers to a quote attributed to Enrico Fermi concerning the question of extraterrestrials. I have seen the quote in more than one source, but I have found it on page 578 of *The Anthropic Cosmological Principle* by John D. Barrow & Frank J. Tipler - " If they existed, they would be here." I never met Enrico Fermi, but from what others have told me about him when I was a student at the University of Chicago, it sounds as if the quote is just how Fermi would sum up the whole ET issue.


Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory