I have always found the Drake Equation interesting, the idea of trying to quantify the number of habitable planets in the universe. In the past it has always been interesting, less in what it tells us about the amount of life and more for what it tells us about the philosophical worldview of the person discussing the idea.
Certainly in the past any attempt to fill the values in amounted to little more than wishful thinking but that is starting to change a little bit as we get better at finding planets orbiting other stars.
Over at Medium.com they have an article up called How Data From The Kepler Space Telescope Is Changing The Drake Equation.
n recent years, astronomers have begun to gather data that has a significant impact on some of the parameters in the Drake equation. In particular, NASA launched a space telescope called Kepler in 2009 that was designed to look for exoplanets orbiting other stars and produce an estimate of the proportion that have planets.
During its mission, Kepler has identified some 2000 exoplanet candidates, a huge increase on the 400 or so that were known before it was launched. What’s more, before Kepler, the known exoplanets were mainly Jupiter-sized, making it hard to estimate the number of Earth-like planets.
By contrast, most of the planets discovered by Kepler are Neptune-sized or smaller. Indeed, the Kepler data has led to a dramatic change in astronomers’ understanding of the likely number of Earth-like planets around other stars.
So an interesting question is how the new data changes the Drake equation. Today, we get an answer thanks to the work of Amri Wandel at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, who has made a number of inferences based on the new data. “The recent results of the Kepler mission significantly reduce the uncertainty in the astronomical parameters of the Drake equation,” he says.