BBC Future, with the help of iib Studio, has put together a very cool interactive calculator that takes the Drake equation to the next level. Typically, the equation is used to estimate how many radio-transmitting civilizations could currently exist in the Milky Way Galaxy — but by adding just one extra variable, it lets you take the entire universe into account.

The Drake equation is dependant on the entry of key variables — things like the number of stars in the galaxy, the number of habitable planets per solar system, the length of time a radio-emitting civilization could last, and so on. But because we don't know the answer to many (if not all) of these questions, the equation is used to generate a rough estimate based on our best guesses. The BBC calculator lets you add an extra variable to the equation — the estimated number of galaxies in the universe — so you can come up with a number of intelligent civilizations in the entire cosmos.

Which also means that anyone can enter their own values to make a calculation. And because the BBC chart is completely interactive, you can determine just how many — or how painfully few — intelligent civilizations currently reside in the depths of space.

So, how optimistic or pessimistic are you? Check out the calculator and let us know what you came up with in the comments.

Images via BBC and Space-Wise.