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YouTube / Davies Robinson

Carl Sagan Explains the Drake Equation

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YouTube / Davies Robinson

Professor Frank Drake proposed an equation that could be used to estimate the number of detectable extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy. The equation was deemed important for his work at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia (which I've driven by many times -- their huge telescope is quite a sight!). In essence, Drake decided to define a series of limiting factors, so that we could take the total number of observable stars, then scope way down to get to some estimate for how many might have civilizations that we could contact. The resulting Drake Equation is one of the most exciting bits of math I've ever seen. Wikipedia explains it like so:

The Drake equation states that:


N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which radio-communication might be possible (i.e. which are on our current past light cone);


R* = the average rate of star formation in our galaxy

fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets

ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets

fl = the fraction of planets that could support life that actually develop life at some point

fi = the fraction of planets with life that actually go on to develop intelligent life (civilizations)

fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space

L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space

If that's too math-heavy for you, just watch Carl Sagan explain it in this eight-minute video:

Where it really gets interesting (and frustrating) is when you start to figure how many of these detectable civilizations are actually currently broadcasting during a time period when we might actually contact them or receive their broadcast (adjusted, of course, for the massive lag time to get the broadcast from point A to point B). Sagan touches on part of this problem in his discussion, but doesn't get into the details. Read more about all this at Wikipedia, or check out this detailed lecture:

A review of the Drake Equation from RiAus on Vimeo.

Can You Figure Out How Many Triangles Are in This Picture?

Time for another brain teaser. How many triangles do you see here? A Quora user posted the image above (which we spotted on MSN) for fellow brainiacs to chew on. See if you can figure it out. We’ll wait.


So, as you can see, all the smaller triangles can combine to become bigger triangles, which is where the trick lies. If you count up every different triangle formed by the lines, you should get 24. (Don’t forget the big triangle!)

Some pedantic Quora users thought it through and realized there are even more triangles, if you really want to go there. There’s a triangle formed by the “A” in the signature in the right-hand corner, and if we’re counting the concept of triangles, the word “triangle” counts, too.

As math expert Martin Silvertant writes on Quora, “A triangle is a mathematical idea rather than something real; physical triangles are by definition not geometrically perfect, but approximations of triangles. In other words, both the pictorial triangles and the words referring to triangles are referents to the concept of a triangle.” So yes, you could technically count the word “triangle.”  (Silvertant also includes a useful graphic explaining how to find all the pictorial triangles.)

Check out the whole Quora discussion for in-depth explainers from users about their methods of figuring it out.

[h/t MSN]

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This Puzzling Math Brain Teaser Has a Simple Solution
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Fans of number-based brainteasers might find themselves pleasantly stumped by the following question, posed by TED-Ed’s Alex Gendler: Which sequence of integers comes next?

1, 11, 21, 1211, 111221, ?

Mathematicians may recognize this pattern as a specific type of number sequence—called a “look-and-say sequence"—that yields a distinct pattern. As for those who aren't number enthusiasts, they should try reading the numbers they see aloud (so that 1 becomes "one one," 11 is "two ones," 21 is "one two, one one,” and so on) to figure the answer.

Still can’t crack the code? Learn the surprisingly simple secret to solving the sequence by watching the video below.


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