The odds of us being the first technological civilization the universe has ever seen are similar to those of Elvis and the Loch Ness monster sharing a Powerball jackpot, according to a new study. In a paper published in Astrobiology, researchers updated the famous 1961 Drake equation on the probability of alien civilizations to include what we know now about the prevalence of possibly habitable planets, and concluded that there have almost certainly been billions of other civilizations. Lead researcher Adam Frank, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester, says that even if civilization arose on just one in a trillion planets, which he calls a very pessimistic estimate, there would have been more than 10 billion civilizations since the universe began, reports LiveScience.
Frank, who estimates the odds of us being the first technological civilization to arise are in the neighborhood of one in 10 billion trillion, calls his calculations the "archaeological form" of the Drake equation, since billions of other intelligent species have presumably become extinct over the universe's 13 billion-year history, Discovery reports. With only our 10,000-year history to go on, how long alien civilizations last is one of the big remaining unknowns, he says—and we should "begin exploring the problem using simulations to get a sense of what leads to long-lived civilizations and what doesn't." (Other astronomers have suggested using lasers to conceal our planet from evil aliens.)