While researchers often come up with overall estimates of the likelihood of intelligent life in the universe, it is a process fraught with guesswork; recent guesses put the number anywhere between a million and less than one.
"It's a process of quantifying our ignorance," said Duncan Forgan, the University of Edinburgh researcher who carried out the work.
In his new approach, Mr Forgan simulated a galaxy much like our own, allowing it to develop solar systems based on what is now known from the existence of so-called exoplanets in our galactic neighbourhood.
These simulated alien worlds were then subjected to a number of different scenarios.
The first assumed that it is difficult for life to be formed but easy for it to evolve, and suggested there were 361 intelligent civilisations in the galaxy.
A second scenario assumed life was easily formed but struggled to develop intelligence. Under these conditions, 31,513 other forms of life were estimated to exist.
The final scenario examined the possibility that life could be passed from one planet to another during asteroid collisions - a popular theory for how life arose here on Earth.
It is no longer a question about IF. Intelligent civilisations ARE out there and there could be thousands of them. Mr Forgan mean that it will take between 300 and 400 years before we on Earth will be able to come in contact with some of these alien worlds. However, these planets are much older than our own, so advanced civilisations may have been here many many years ago.