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September 17, 2017
Dear friends,

I am writing to share my excitement about the release of a two-minute video that we have been working on over the summer.  Towards the end of the Spring 2017 quarter, outreach enthusiast Emmanuel Masongsong took some footage of our SETI class in action.  He also filmed one-on-one interviews with some of the students.  We turned all of the footage over to Kevin Lu, a remarkable high schooler with a passion for producing scientific and educational short films.  Kevin created the video largely independently over the summer, with occasional guidance from Lisa Garibay, a public relations expert working for UCLA's Division of Physical Sciences.  Howard Preston, a member of the Division's Board of Advisors, had strongly encouraged us to create a video showcasing the SETI course.  After previewing this video, he stated that viewers would "appreciate the incredible learning experience and intellectual adventure the SETI class provided."  I am excited to hear what you think of the video.  

This year, the International Astronautical Congress will take place on Sept. 25–29 in Adelaide, Australia.  I will not be attending the meeting as I am spending quality time with my wife, Sabina, and a brand new human: our son, Max, who is 13 days old today.  Max has joined a community of about 7.5 billion humans.  Is there a greater community of living creatures or thinking machines out there?  Will we know the answer by the time Max asks this question?     

There has been another memorable event this summer.  UCLA's Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences planned a variety of viewing parties for the Great American Eclipse on August 21, 2017.  I had the privilege of hosting 36 alumni and friends of the Department in Oregon, and we had an amazing view of the total solar eclipse.  While describing eclipse science at an after-dinner talk, I mentioned results from the Kepler mission.  The dimming of light that Kepler recorded when planets pass in front of their respective host stars are mini-eclipses.  Thanks to these eclipses and Kepler's data, we can now quantify two of the factors in the Drake equation.
The Drake equation on a commemorative plaque in Green Bank, West Virginia.
The Drake equation was developed by Frank Drake as a way to organize a 1961 scientific conference held at Green Bank, West Virginia, and provides a framework for estimating the number of communicative civilizations.  In Drake's words: The number (N) of detectable civilizations in space equals the rate (R*) of star formation, times the fraction (fp) of stars that form planets, times the number (ne) of planets hospitable to life [per star with planets], times the fraction (fl) of those planets where life actually emerges, times the fraction (fi) of planets where life evolves into intelligent beings, times the fraction (fc) of planets with intelligent creatures capable of interstellar communication, times the length of time (L) that such a civilization remains detectable.  For 50 years, only the rate of star formation (R*) was known with any degree of certainty (1–10 per year).  Thanks to Kepler, we now know that the fraction of stars that have planets (fp) is close to 1, and that the number of planets hospitable to life per star with planets (ne) is about 0.1–0.4. This result is remarkable and implies that there are tens of billions of potentially habitable planets in the Milky Way. We are still ignorant about the factors fl, fi, fc, and L, so we do not know how many communicative civilizations may exist in the Milky Way.  What is your guess?  You are more likely to believe in the success of SETI if you are an optimist about the emergence of intelligent life and the lifetime of civilizations.      

Warm regards,

Jean-Luc Margot
Copyright © 2017 UCLA SETI Group. All rights reserved.

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