Pioneering radio astronomer Frank Drake dies at 92


Frank Drake, a prominent radio astronomer known for his pioneering efforts in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), died Sept. 2 at his home in Aptos, California. He was 92 years old.

A professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics and former dean of natural sciences at UC Santa Cruz, Drake also served for 19 years as chairman of the board of trustees of the SETI Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on research. research and education related to the search for life. beyond the Earth.

Drake’s daughter Nadia Drake announced his death on her websitewhere she writes that her father “was loved by many, and for many reasons, but above all, today I celebrate his humanity, his tenderness, his gentleness of spirit. A titan in life, dad leaves a titanic absence .

Drake is widely known for, among other things, the “Drake Equation,” which he devised in 1961 to estimate the number of communicating extraterrestrial civilizations that might be detectable in our galaxy. The equation served as an effective framework for rigorous review and planning of efforts to detect extraterrestrial intelligence. At the time, Drake was responsible for telescope operations at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Green Bank, West Virginia, where he conducted the first organized search for radio signals from intelligent extraterrestrial sources in 1960 (Project Ozma ).

Throughout his career, Drake has worked to refine methods for detecting signals of extraterrestrial intelligence. He was also involved in the discovery of Jupiter’s radiation belts and played an important role in observational studies that led to the early understanding of pulsars (fast-rotating neutron stars that emit beams of radiation).

First interstellar message

Drake created the first interstellar message ever deliberately transmitted into space from Earth. Known as the “Arecibo message”, it was broadcast by radio from Arecibo Observatory in 1974. Drake was also involved (with Carl Sagan and others) in designing the plaques worn on the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft and the “Golden Record” carried on the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft, with messages intended for any intelligent life the spacecraft might encounter on its travels beyond the solar system.

Born in 1930 in Chicago, Drake earned a BA in Engineering Physics from Cornell University, as well as an MA and Ph.D. degrees in astronomy at Harvard University. He served as an electronics officer in the United States Navy from 1952 to 1955.

After working at the NRAO, Drake was briefly head of the lunar and planetary science section of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory before joining the astronomy faculty at Cornell University in 1964, where he was appointed professor of science. Goldwin Smith Astronomy in 1976. He was Managing Partner of Cornell’s Center for Radiophysics and Space Research, and he was Director of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico from 1966 to 1968. He was also Director of the National Astronomy and Ionospheric Center (which includes the Arecibo Observatory) from its inception in 1971 until 1981.

Dean of Natural Sciences

Drake came to UC Santa Cruz in 1984 to serve as Dean of the Division of Natural Sciences, leading the division during a period of rapid growth in science and engineering programs on campus. He has taught innovative courses in astronomy for non-science majors and has mentored numerous undergraduate and graduate astronomy students. His far-reaching leadership in public awareness and education in astronomy was recognized by the American Astronomical Society in 2001 with its first education award.

After retiring from teaching in 1996, Drake continued his interest in the detection of extraterrestrial life, studying radio telescope designs that maximize SETI’s chances of success and participating in projects at the UC’s Lick Observatory to search for optical signals of extraterrestrial intelligence.

Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences and Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Drake has served as president of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, vice president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, president of the National Research Council’s Board on Physics and Astronomy, and director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute.

Frank Drake is survived by his wife of 44 years, Amahl Shakhashiri Drake; daughters Nadia Drake (Scott Ransom) and Leila Drake Fossek (Chris Fossek); from a previous marriage, sons Steve Drake, Richard Drake (Alice Moore) and Paul Drake (Ellen Sullivan); daughters-in-law Mary and Kim; and four grandchildren. He was predeceased by his sister Alma Quigley.


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