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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

More than 30 intelligent alien civilizations could exist in the Milky Way, according to a new study in The Astrophysical Journal.

The big picture: Scientists have long tried to estimate how many alien civilizations like our own could be out in the universe.

  • The Drake Equation is most famous, but the new study uses a simple way to estimate exactly how many intelligent civilizations could be lurking in our galaxy.

What they did: The new study uses Earth as a model for how life may form in other parts of the Milky Way.

  • "There should be at least a few dozen active civilizations in our galaxy under the assumption that it takes 5 billion years for intelligent life to form on other planets, as on Earth," Christopher Conselice, co-author of the study, said in a statement. "The idea is looking at evolution, but on a cosmic scale."
  • The new estimate factors in the likelihood that stars host Earth-like planets in their habitable zones and the history of star formation throughout the galaxy.
  • Under the study's strictest set of assumptions — which includes that stars that could host planets with intelligent life be similar in metal content to our Sun — the authors expect there should be 36 alien civilizations in the galaxy.

But, but, but: Even if there were three dozen intelligent civilizations in our galaxy, there's no guarantee that we'll ever interact with any of them.

  • According to the study, on average, these civilization are likely about 17,000 light-years away.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Sep 15, 2020 - Science

What it would mean to find life on Venus

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Scientists think they may have found an indicator of life in Venus’ clouds — a discovery that, if confirmed, will cause them to re-examine everything they thought they knew about how life evolves.

The big picture: If life does exist within a small niche of habitability in Venus' temperate layer of clouds, it might mean that life could be even more ubiquitous in the universe than previously expected. The discovery is already fueling calls from scientists who want a mission sent to the nearby world.

Biden Cabinet confirmation schedule: When to watch hearings

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Jan. 16 in Wilmington, Delaware. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

The first hearings for President-elect Joe Biden's Cabinet nominations begin on Tuesday, with testimony from his picks to lead the departments of State, Homeland and Defense.

Why it matters: It's been a slow start for a process that usually takes place days or weeks earlier for incoming presidents. The first slate of nominees will appear on Tuesday before a Republican-controlled Senate, but that will change once the new Democratic senators-elect from Georgia are sworn in.

Kamala Harris resigns from Senate seat ahead of inauguration

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Photo: Mason Trinca/Getty Images

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris submitted her resignation from her seat in the U.S. Senate on Monday, two days before she will be sworn into her new role.

What's next: California Gov. Gavin Newsom has selected California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to serve out the rest of Harris' term, which ends in 2022.