Pioneering astronomer Frank Drake dies at 92

National Geographic reports that Frank Drake, the astronomer who pioneered the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), has died at the age of 92. 

Drake’s death was announced by his family on Friday. He is said to have passed away peacefully at his California home on Sept. 2. No other information has been provided.

Who was he?

From Chicago, Illinois, Drake, after serving time with the U.S. Navy’s Reserve Office Training Corps, would go to Harvard University to study radio astronomy as a graduate student. After graduating, he took a position with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Greenbank, West Virginia.

It was left up to Drake to decide upon a research program for the new observatory and the new radio telescope that it had acquired. Drake chose to use the telescope to search for extraterrestrial transmissions, something that had long been an interest to him.

In the following years, Drake earned international attention for the experiment that he was conducting at the observatory, which was called Project Ozma.

This led to a meetup between Drake and several prominent scientists and engineers, and it is at this meetup that Drake introduced what has become known as the Drake Equation, one of the most famous equations in all of science.

NASA explains, “This equation was an attempt to apply a conceptual framework to the question of whether communications from civilizations among the stars of our galaxy could be detectable.”

A lasting influence

Drake would go on to work at several other observatories. This included observatories at both Cornell and at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Drake would end up becoming the president of the SETI Institute, and he would continue promoting the search for extraterrestrial intelligent life through the end of his life.

Drake never did find other intelligent life in the universe, but he massively inspired the community that continues the search today.

Mary Voytek, the Program Scientist for NASA Astrobiology, has put out a statement on Drake’s passing, saying:

Frank Drake made the search for life beyond Earth real to the public, fueling their interest. Astrobiology at NASA is 60 years strong and our understanding of the origin, evolution, and distribution of life has been enriched by innovators like Drake.

Drake leaves behind his wife, Amahl, and two daughters, as well as three children from a previous marriage.

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