Being scared would be welcome

Scary music was the topic suggested for a listeners’ response on BBC Radio 6 at 6.30 this morning. One listener spoke for many when saying there was no music more scary during childhood than the theme music of Doctor Who.

It was certainly music that frightened me. We had only two channels on our black and white VHF television set and I hated Doctor Who with its daleks and cybermen. I hated stories of “flying saucers”. I once spent an evening on my grandad’s farm avoiding a television version of War of the Worlds. As the years have passed, the aliens have become an increasingly attractive option. If they have arrived here, their technology and knowledge is infinitely in advance of ours, and surely they would be more inspiring than the rulers of our world?

The Drake Equation calculates the possibility of an imminent arrival of aliens. If they arrived in Somerset, it would presumably be a case of landing their ship on Glastonbury Tor. The Drake Equation is the mathematical calculation devised by Dr Frank Drake to estimate the likelihood of there being someone out there. For someone whose mathematics knowledge did not extend beyond that required to pass the Certificate in Secondary Education, the Drake Equation is almost comprehensible. The Drake equation is:

N = R* • fp • ne • fl • fi • fc • L


N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible


R* = the average number of star formation per year 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

It is an equation that would have terrified me as a child because it suggests that there is a likelihood of  other civilisations in our galaxy. Of course, the problem is that our civilisation is likely to end before the flying saucers can reach us. What a depressing conclusion. Is there not a single extra-terrestrial out there who save us from our incompetent governments? Scary music would be welcome.

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