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Bernoulli, Darwin, and Sagan: the probability of life on other planets

  • D. Kim Rossmo (a1)

The recent discovery that billions of planets in the Milky Way Galaxy may be in circumstellar habitable zones has renewed speculation over the possibility of extraterrestrial life. The Drake equation is a probabilistic framework for estimating the number of technological advanced civilizations in our Galaxy; however, many of the equation's component probabilities are either unknown or have large error intervals. In this paper, a different method of examining this question is explored, one that replaces the various Drake factors with the single estimate for the probability of life existing on Earth. This relationship can be described by the binomial distribution if the presence of life on a given number of planets is equated to successes in a Bernoulli trial. The question of exoplanet life may then be reformulated as follows – given the probability of one or more independent successes for a given number of trials, what is the probability of two or more successes? Some of the implications of this approach for finding life on exoplanets are discussed.

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International Journal of Astrobiology
  • ISSN: 1473-5504
  • EISSN: 1475-3006
  • URL: /core/journals/international-journal-of-astrobiology
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