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  • richardmitnick 3:40 pm on June 30, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Breakthrough Listen initiative, , , Cosmic Modesty’ in a Fecund Universe, , ,   

    From Centauri Dreams: “‘Cosmic Modesty’ in a Fecund Universe” 

    Centauri Dreams

    8

    June 30, 2017
    Paul Gilster

    I came across the work of Chin-Fei Lee (Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Taiwan) when I had just read Avi Loeb’s essay Cosmic Modesty. Loeb (Harvard University) is a well known astronomer, director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a key player in Breakthrough Starshot.

    Breakthrough Starshot Initiative

    Breakthrough Starshot

    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    SPACEOBS, the San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations Observatory is located at 2450m above sea level, north of the Atacama Desert, in Chile, near to the village of San Pedro de Atacama and close to the border with Bolivia and Argentina

    SNO Sierra Nevada Observatory is a high elevation observatory 2900m above the sea level located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Granada Spain and operated maintained and supplied by IAC

    Teide Observatory in Tenerife Spain, home of two 40 cm LCO telescopes

    Observatori Astronòmic del Montsec (OAdM), located in the town of Sant Esteve de la Sarga (Pallars Jussà), 1,570 meters on the sea level

    Bayfordbury Observatory,approximately 6 miles from the main campus of the University of Hertfordshire

    [And, don’t forget Breakthrough Listen

    Breakthrough Listen Project

    1

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA



    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA


    CSIRO/Parkes Observatory, located 20 kilometres north of the town of Parkes, New South Wales, Australia

    His ‘cosmic modesty’ implies we should accept the idea that humans are not intrinsically special. Indeed, given that the only planet we know that hosts life has both intelligent and primitive lifeforms on it, we should search widely, and not just around stars like our Sun.

    More on that in a moment, because I want to intertwine Loeb’s thoughts with recent work by Chin-Fei Lee, whose team has used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to detect organic molecules in an accretion disk around a young protostar. The star in question is Herbig-Haro (HH) 212, an infant system (about 40,000 years old) in Orion about 1300 light years away. Seen nearly edge-on from our perspective on Earth, the star’s accretion disk is feeding a bipolar jet. This team’s results, to my mind, remind us why cosmic modesty seems like a viable course, while highlighting the magnitude of the question.

    What Lee’s team has found at HH 212 is an atmosphere of complex organic molecules associated with the disk. Methanol (CH3OH) is involved, as is deuterated methanol (CH2DOH), methanethiol (CH3SH), and formamide (NH2CHO), which the researchers see as precursors for producing biomolecules like amino acids and sugars. “They are likely formed on icy grains in the disk and then released into the gas phase because of heating from stellar radiation or some other means, such as shocks,” says co-author Zhi-Yun Li of the University of Virginia.

    1
    Image: Jet, disk, and disk atmosphere in the HH 212 protostellar system. (a) A composite image for the HH 212 jet in different molecules, combining the images from the Very Large Telescope (McCaughrean et al. 2002) and ALMA (Lee et al. 2015).

    ESO/VLT at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array in Chile in the Atacama at Chajnantor plateau, at 5,000 metres

    Orange image shows the dusty envelope+disk mapped with ALMA. (b) A zoom-in to the central dusty disk. The asterisk marks the position of the protostar. A size scale of our solar system is shown in the lower right corner for comparison. (c) Atmosphere of the accretion disk detected with ALMA. In the disk atmosphere, green is for deuterated methanol, blue for methanethiol, and red for formamide. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Lee et al.

    Every time I read about finds like this, I think about the apparent ubiquity of life’s materials — here we’re seeing organics at the earliest phases of a stellar system’s evolution. The inescapable conclusion is that the building blocks of living things are available from the outset to be incorporated in the planets that emerge from the disk. That certainly doesn’t count as a detection of life, but it does remind us of how frequently the ingredients of life manage to appear.

    In that context, Avi Loeb’s thoughts on cosmic modesty ring true. We’ve been able to extract some statistical conclusions from the Kepler instrument’s deep stare that let us infer there are more Earth-mass planets in the habitable zones of their stars in the observable universe than there are grains of sand on all the Earth’s beaches. Something to think about as you read this on your beach vacation and gaze from the sand beneath your feet to the ocean beyond.

    But are most living planets likely to occur around G-class stars like our Sun? Loeb reminds us that red dwarf stars like Proxima Centauri b and TRAPPIST-1, both of which made headlines in the past year because of their conceivably habitable planets, are long-lived, with lifetimes as long as 10 trillion years. Our Sun’s life, by comparison, is a paltry 10 billion years. Long after the Sun has turned into a white dwarf after its red giant phase, living things could still have a habitat around Proxima Centauri and TRAPPIST-1. Says Loeb:

    “I therefore advise my wealthy friends to buy real estate on Proxima b, because its value will likely go up dramatically in the future. But this also raises an important scientific question: “Is life most likely to emerge at the present cosmic time near a star like the sun?” By surveying the habitability of the universe throughout cosmic history from the birth of the first stars 30 million years after the big bang to the death of the last stars in 10 trillion years, one reaches the conclusion that unless habitability around low-mass stars is suppressed, life is most likely to exist near red dwarf stars like Proxima Centauri or TRAPPIST-1 trillions of years from now.”

    ESO Pale Red Dot project

    ESO Red Dots Campaign

    Centauris Alpha Beta Proxima 27, February 2012. Skatebiker

    The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultracool dwarf, is orbited by seven Earth-size planets (NASA).

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile interior

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist-South National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile

    But of course, one of the reasons for missions like TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite),

    NASA/TESS

    is to begin to understand the small rocky worlds around nearby red dwarfs, and to determine whether there are factors like tidal lock or stellar flaring that preclude life there. For that matter, do the planets around Proxima and TRAPPIST-1 have atmospheres? There too the answer will be forthcoming, assuming the James Webb Space Telescope is deployed successfully and can make the needed assessment of these worlds.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    ” …very advanced civilizations [Loeb continues] could potentially be detectable out to the edge of the observable universe through their most powerful beacons. The evidence for an alien civilization might not be in the traditional form of radio communication signals. Rather, it could involve detecting artifacts on planets via the spectral edge from solar cells, industrial pollution of atmospheres, artificial lights or bursts of radiation from artificial beams sweeping across the sky.”

    Changes to the traditional view of SETI abound as we explore these new pathways. In any case, our technologies for making such detections have never been as advanced, and work across the exoplanetary spectrum, such as the findings of Chin-Fei Lee and colleagues, urges us on as we try to relate our own civilization to a universe in which it is hardly the center. As Loeb reminds us, we are orbiting a galaxy that itself moves at ~0.001c relative to the cosmic rest frame, one of perhaps 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe.

    Either alternative — we are alone, or we are not — changes everything about our perspective, and encourages us to deepen the search for simple life (perhaps detected in exoplanetary atmospheres through its biosignatures) as well as conceivable alien civilizations. Embracing Loeb’s cosmic modesty, we press on under the assumption that life’s emergence is not uncommon, and that refining the search to learn the answer is a civilizational imperative.

    See the full article here .

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    Tracking Research into Deep Space Exploration

    Alpha Centauri and other nearby stars seem impossible destinations not just for manned missions but even for robotic probes like Cassini or Galileo. Nonetheless, serious work on propulsion, communications, long-life electronics and spacecraft autonomy continues at NASA, ESA and many other venues, some in academia, some in private industry. The goal of reaching the stars is a distant one and the work remains low-key, but fascinating ideas continue to emerge. This site will track current research. I’ll also throw in the occasional musing about the literary and cultural implications of interstellar flight. Ultimately, the challenge may be as much philosophical as technological: to reassert the value of the long haul in a time of jittery short-term thinking.

     
  • richardmitnick 4:15 pm on June 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Breakthrough Listen initiative, , , , The Case for Cosmic Modesty,   

    From SA: “The Case for Cosmic Modesty” 

    Scientific American

    Scientific American

    June 28, 2017
    Abraham Loeb

    1
    The Parkes radio telescope in Australia has been used to search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Credit: Ian Sutton Flickr (CC BY-SA 3.0)

    “There are many reasons to be modest,” my mother used to say when I was a kid. But after three decades as an astronomer, I can add one more reason: the richness of the universe around us.

    Universe map Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey

    Prior to the development of modern astronomy, humans tended to think the physical world centered on us. The sun and the stars were thought to revolve around Earth. Although naive in retrospect, this is a natural starting point. When my daughters were infants, they tended to think the world centered on them. Their development portrayed an accelerated miniature of human history. As they grew up, they matured and acquired a more balanced perspective.

    Similarly, observing the sky makes us aware of the big picture and teaches us modesty. We now know we are not at the center of the physical universe, because Earth orbits the sun, which circles around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, which itself drifts with a peculiar velocity of ~0.001c (c is the speed of light) relative to the cosmic rest frame.

    Milky Way NASA/JPL-Caltech /ESO R. Hurt

    Many people, however, still believe we might be at the center of the biological universe; namely, that life is rare or unique to Earth. In contrast, my working hypothesis, drawn from the above example of the physical universe, is that we are not special in general, not only in terms of our physical coordinates but also as a form of life. Adopting this perspective implies we are not alone. There should be life out there in both primitive and intelligent forms. This conclusion, implied by the principle of “cosmic modesty,” has implications. If life is likely to exist elsewhere, we should search for it in all of its possible forms.

    Breakthrough Listen Project

    1

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA



    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

    CSIRO/Parkes Observatory, located 20 kilometres north of the town of Parkes, New South Wales, Australia

    Breakthrough Starshot Initiative

    Breakthrough Starshot

    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    SPACEOBS, the San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations Observatory is located at 2450m above sea level, north of the Atacama Desert, in Chile, near to the village of San Pedro de Atacama and close to the border with Bolivia and Argentina

    SNO Sierra Nevada Observatory is a high elevation observatory 2900m above the sea level located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Granada Spain and operated maintained and supplied by IAC

    Teide Observatory in Tenerife Spain, home of two 40 cm LCO telescopes

    Observatori Astronòmic del Montsec (OAdM), located in the town of Sant Esteve de la Sarga (Pallars Jussà), 1,570 meters on the sea level

    Bayfordbury Observatory,approximately 6 miles from the main campus of the University of Hertfordshire

    Our civilization has reached an important milestone. We now have access to unprecedented technologies in our search for extraterrestrial life, be it primitive or intelligent. The search for primitive life is currently underway and well funded, but the search for intelligence is out of the mainstream of federal funding agencies. This should not be the case given that the only planet known to host life, Earth, shows both primitive and intelligent life forms of it.

    Our first radio signals have leaked by now out to a distance of more than 100 light-years and we might soon hear back a response. Rather than being guided by Fermi’s paradox: “Where is everybody?” or by philosophical arguments about the rarity of intelligence, we should invest funds in building better observatories and searching for a wide variety of artificial signals in the sky. Civilizations at our technological level might produce mostly weak signals. For example, a nuclear war on the nearest planet outside the solar system would not be visible even with our largest telescopes.

    But very advanced civilizations could potentially be detectable out to the edge of the observable universe through their most powerful beacons. The evidence for an alien civilization might not be in the traditional form of radio communication signals. Rather, it could involve detecting artifacts on planets via the spectral edge from solar cells, industrial pollution of atmospheres, artificial lights or bursts of radiation from artificial beams sweeping across the sky.

    Finding the answer to the important question: “Are we alone?” will change our perspective on our place in the universe and will open new interdisciplinary fields of research, such as astrolinguistics (how to communicate with aliens), astropolitics (how to negotiate with them for information), astrosociology (how to interpret their collective behavior), astroeconomics (how to trade space-based resources) and so on. We could shortcut our own progress by learning from civilizations that benefited from a head start of billions of years.

    There is no doubt that noticing the big picture taught my young daughters modesty. Similarly, the Kepler space telescope survey of nearby stars allowed astronomers to infer there are probably more habitable Earth-mass planets in the observable volume of the universe than there are grains of sand on all beaches on Earth. Emperors or kings who boasted after conquering a piece of land on Earth resemble an ant that hugs with great pride a single grain of sand on the landscape of a huge beach.

    Just over the past year, astronomers discovered a potentially habitable planet, Proxima b, around the nearest star, Proxima Centauri as well as three potentially habitable planets out of seven around another nearby star TRAPPIST-1.

    ESO Pale Red Dot project

    ESO Red Dots Campaign

    Centauris Alpha Beta Proxima 27, February 2012. Skatebiker

    The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultracool dwarf, is orbited by seven Earth-size planets (NASA).

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile interior

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist-South National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile

    (And if life formed on one of the three, it was likely transferred to the others.) These dwarf stars, whose masses are 12 percent and 8 percent the sun’s mass, respectively, will live for up to 10 trillion years, about a thousand times longer than the sun. Hence, they provide excellent prospects for life in the distant future, long after the sun will die and turn into a cool white dwarf.

    I therefore advise my wealthy friends to buy real estate on Proxima b, because its value will likely go up dramatically in the future. But this also raises an important scientific question: “Is life most likely to emerge at the present cosmic time near a star like the sun?” By surveying the habitability of the universe throughout cosmic history from the birth of the first stars 30 million years after the big bang to the death of the last stars in 10 trillion years, one reaches the conclusion that unless habitability around low-mass stars is suppressed, life is most likely to exist near red dwarf stars like Proxima Centauri or TRAPPIST-1 trillions of years from now.

    The chemistry of “life as we know it” requires liquid water, but being at the right distance from the host star for achieving a comfortable temperature on the planet’s surface is not a sufficient condition for life. The planet also needs to have an atmosphere. In the absence of an external atmospheric pressure, warming by starlight would transform water ice directly into gas rather than a liquid phase.

    The warning sign can be found next door: Mars has a tenth of Earth’s mass and lost its atmosphere. Does Proxima b have an atmosphere? If so, the atmosphere and any surface ocean it sustains will moderate the temperature contrast between its permanent day and night sides. The James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in October 2018, will be able to distinguish between the temperature contrast expected if Proxima b is bare rock compared with the case where its climate is moderated by an atmosphere, possibly along with an ocean.

    A cosmic perspective about our origins would also contribute to a balanced worldview. The heavy elements that assembled to make Earth were produced in the heart of a nearby massive star that exploded. A speck of this material takes form as our body during our life but then goes back to Earth (with one exception, namely the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto, which were put on the New Horizons spacecraft and are making their way back to space).

    What are we then, if not just a transient shape that a speck of material takes for a brief moment in cosmic history on the surface of one planet out of so many? Despite all of this, life is still the most precious phenomenon we treasure on Earth. It would be amazing if we find evidence for “life as we know it” on the surface of another planet, and even more remarkable if our telescopes will trace evidence for an advanced technology on an alien spacecraft roaming through interstellar space.

    References, some with links, some without links.

    Lingam, M. & Loeb, A. 2017, ApJ 837, L23-L28.

    Lingam, M. & Loeb, A. 2017, MNRAS (in the press); preprint available at https://arxiv.org/abs/1702.05500

    Lin, H., Gonzalez, G. A. & Loeb, A., 2014, ApJ 792, L7-L11.

    Loeb, A. & Turner, E. L. 2012, Astrobiology 12, 290-290.

    Guillochon, J. & Loeb, A. ApJ 811, L20-L26.

    Anglada-Escude’, G. et al. 2016, Nature 536, 437-440.

    Gillon, M. et al. 2016, Nature 542, 456-460.

    Lingam, M. & Loeb, A. 2017, PNAS (in the press); preprint available at https://arxiv.org/abs/1703.00878

    Loeb, A., Batista, R. A., & Sloan, D. 2016, JCAP 8, 40-52.

    Kreidberg, L. & Loeb, A. 2016, ApJ, 832, L12-L18.

    See the full article here .

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    Scientific American, the oldest continuously published magazine in the U.S., has been bringing its readers unique insights about developments in science and technology for more than 160 years.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:05 pm on June 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Breakthrough Listen initiative, , ,   

    From Red Dot: “Is there life around the nearest stars? 

    Red Dots

    13th June 2017
    Avi Loeb

    1

    Is there extra-terrestrial life just outside the solar system? The recent discovery of Proxima b [1], a habitable Earth-mass planet next to the nearest star, opened a unique opportunity in the search for extra-terrestrial life.

    Centauris Alpha Beta Proxima 27, February 2012. Skatebiker

    It is much easier to study nearby habitats for life, either by remote sensing of the feeble radiation signals from biologically-produced molecules (e.g. oxygen) or by sending spacecrafts that will image the planet’s surface or collect samples from its atmosphere through a close encounter. The Breakthrough Starshot initiative, announced in April 2016 (and whose advisory committee I chair) aims to send lightweight (gram scale) probes to the nearest stars at a fifth of the speed of light, so as to inform us of nearby life-hosting environments within our generation. To properly select the Starshot targets, we would like to know which nearby stars host habitable planets like Proxima b. The treasure of data expected from the Red Dots campaign will be invaluable for guiding and motivating the Starshot project.

    2
    Artistic’s conception showing the Starshot project concept. A laser beam propels a light sail towards a nearby exoplanet such as Proxima b. The sail carries on its center a lightweight probe with several measuring instruments. Starshot will start soon the first five-year phase of technology demonstration at a funding level of $100M, provided by the entrepreneur and physicist Yuri Milner (Credit: Breakthrough Starshot).

    The chemistry of life as we know it requires liquid water, but being at the right distance from the host star for a comfortable temperature on the planet’s surface, is not a sufficient condition. The planet also needs to have an atmosphere. In the absence of an external atmospheric pressure, the warming of water ice transforms it into directly into gas phase rather than liquid. The warning sign is just next door: Mars has a tenth of the Earth’s mass and lost its atmosphere. Does Proxima b have an atmosphere? If so, the atmosphere and any surface ocean it sustains, will moderate the temperature contrast between its permanent day and night sides. In collaboration with Laura Kreidberg, we showed [2] that the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in October 2018, will be able to distinguish between the temperature contrast expected if Proxima b is bare rock compared to the case where its climate is moderated by an atmosphere.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star with 12% of the mass of the Sun. Another dwarf star, TRAPPIST-1, with 8% of the solar mass, was discovered recently [3],[4] to host 3 habitable planets out of a total of 7 and if life forms in one of the three it will likely spread to the others [5].

    The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultracool dwarf, is orbited by seven Earth-size planets (NASA).

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile interior

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist-South National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile

    Such dwarf stars have a lifetime that is up to a thousand times longer than the Sun. Hence, they provide excellent prospects for life in the distant future, a trillion years from now, long after the Sun will die and turn into an Earth-size cold remnant, known as a white dwarf. I therefore advise my wealthy friends to buy real estate on Proxima b, since its value is likely to go up dramatically in the future. But this also raises an important scientific question: is life most likely to emerge at the present cosmic time near a star like the Sun? By studying the habitability of the Universe throughout cosmic history from the birth of the first stars 30 million years after the Big Bang to the death of the last stars in ten trillion years, I concluded [6],[7] that unless habitability around low mass stars is suppressed, life is most likely to exist near dwarf stars like Proxima or TRAPPIST-1 ten trillion years from now. This highlights the importance of searching for life around these nearby red dwarf stars, namely the Red Dots campaign. Finding bio-signatures in the atmospheres of transiting Earth-mass planets around such stars will determine whether present-day life is indeed premature or typical from a cosmic perspective.

    References [no links provided]:

    Anglada-Escudé G. et al. “A Terrestrial Candidate in a Temperate Orbit Around Proxima Centauri”, Nature, 536, 437 (2016).
    Kreidberg, L. & Loeb, A. “Prospects for Characterising the Atmosphere of Proxima b”, ApJ, 832, L12 (2016).
    Gillon, M. et al. “Temperate Earth-Sized Planets Transiting a Nearby Ultracool Dwarf Star”, Nature, 533, 221 (2016).
    Gillon, M, et al. “Seven temperate terretrial planets around the nearby ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1”, Nature, 542, 456–460
    Lingam, M., & Loeb, A. “Enhanced Interplanetary Panspermia in the TRAPPIST-1 System”, PNAS, in press (2017); arXiv: 1703.00878.
    Loeb, A., Batista, R. A., & Sloan, D. “Relative Likelihood for Life as a Function of Cosmic Time”, JCAP, 8, 40 (2016). “
    Loeb, A. “On the Habitability of Our Universe”, chapter for the book “Consolidation of Fine Tuning”, edited by R. Davies, J. Silk and D. Sloan (Oxford University, 2017); arXiv:1606.0892

    See the full article here .

    It seems to me that the author should have made mention of the Breakthrough Listen Project, a modest initiative using ground based telescopic assets.

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA



    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

    and

    CSIRO/Parkes Observatory, located 20 kilometres north of the town of Parkes, New South Wales, Australia

    Not to mention also missing

    Breakthrough Starshot Initiative Observatories

    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    SPACEOBS, the San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations Observatory is located at 2450m above sea level, north of the Atacama Desert, in Chile, near to the village of San Pedro de Atacama and close to the border with Bolivia and Argentina

    SNO Sierra Nevada Observatory is a high elevation observatory 2900m above the sea level located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Granada Spain and operated maintained and supplied by IAC

    Teide Observatory in Tenerife Spain, home of two 40 cm LCO telescopes

    Observatori Astronòmic del Montsec (OAdM), located in the town of Sant Esteve de la Sarga (Pallars Jussà), 1,570 meters on the sea level

    Bayfordbury Observatory,approximately 6 miles from the main campus of the University of Hertfordshire

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    Red dots is a project to attempt detection of the nearest terrestrial planets to the Sun. Terrestrial planets in temperate orbits around nearby red dwarf stars can be more easily detected using Doppler spectroscopy, hence the name of the project.

     
  • richardmitnick 4:35 pm on April 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Breakthrough Listen initiative, , The largest SETI initiative ever is reviewing 11 promising signals that probably aren’t aliens   

    From Astronomy: “The largest SETI initiative ever is reviewing 11 promising signals that probably aren’t aliens” 

    Astronomy magazine

    Astronomy Magazine

    April 20, 2017
    John Wenz

    1
    The Robert C. Byrd Radio Telescope at the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia is one of the primary receivers looking for promising SETI signals.

    The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has been going for nearly 60 years now, and there have been plenty of false alarms in that time and nothing substantial. Now, a giant SETI initiative is looking into its initial round of data to follow up on 11 signals that they think could be aliens … but admit probably aren’t. Good to check, though, just in case.

    Two years ago, billionaire Yuri Milner put $100 million into a decade-long search for aliens known as the Breakthrough Listen initiative. It was the widest-scale SETI project announced since Project Phoenix in 1995, which itself was the successor of a cancelled 10 year, $100 million SETI effort by NASA.

    Breakthrough Listen is spearheaded by SETI Berkeley and taps into the wider SETI community to listen in worldwide for radio signals that might be artificial. They’ve also opened up the data to the public at large to look for narrowband signals — those in a specific wavelength that are more likely to be from a non-natural source. There are 692 targets in the initial rounds of data.

    The news is coming out of a two-day conference in California from the Breakthrough Initiatives organization, which is also sponsoring Breakthrough Starshot, a project based on using laser propulsion to power tiny spacecraft to the Alpha Centauri system (specifically Proxima Centauri) in a matter of decades.

    A live broadcast will take place today on Facebook at 6:10 p.m. EST (3:10 p.m. PST) with Andrew Siemion of SETI Berkeley discussing the initial results. You can watch it here.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:35 pm on March 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Breakthrough Listen initiative, , Ellie White, , , , WV Public Broadcasting   

    From GBO via WV Public Broadcasting: “W.Va. Family Fights to Save Green Bank Observatory” 

    gbo-logo

    Green Bank Radio Telescope, West Virginia, USA
    Green Bank Radio Telescope, West Virginia, USA

    gbo-sign

    Green Bank Observatory

    1

    West Virginia Public Broadcasting

    3.15.17
    Anne Li

    2
    Ellie White of Barboursville, West Virginia, and her family launched a campaign called Go Green Bank Observatory convince the National Science Foundation to not divest from Green Bank Observatory.
    Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

    Nestled in the hills in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, is the Green Bank Telescope. At 485 feet tall and about 300 feet across, it’s the largest fully-steerable telescope in the world, and it belongs to Green Bank Observatory.

    Since the observatory opened in 1957, researchers have used the facility to make several discoveries, like organic prebiotic molecules — the building blocks of life. The Green Bank Telescope is also one of only two radio telescopes in the world searching for signs of intelligent life in space.

    3
    Breakthrough Listen

    Breakthrough Listen is the largest ever scientific research program aimed at finding evidence of civilizations beyond Earth. The scope and power of the search are on an unprecedented scale:

    The program includes a survey of the 1,000,000 closest stars to Earth. It scans the center of our galaxy and the entire galactic plane. Beyond the Milky Way, it listens for messages from the 100 closest galaxies to ours.

    The instruments used are among the world’s most powerful. They are 50 times more sensitive than existing telescopes dedicated to the search for intelligence.

    The radio surveys cover 10 times more of the sky than previous programs. They also cover at least 5 times more of the radio spectrum – and do it 100 times faster. They are sensitive enough to hear a common aircraft radar transmitting to us from any of the 1000 nearest stars.

    The GBT plays a key role in the Breakthough Listen project, and roughly 20% of the time available on the GBT is dedicated to this research.

    Breakthrough Listen is also carrying out the deepest and broadest ever search for optical laser transmissions. These spectroscopic searches are 1000 times more effective at finding laser signals than ordinary visible light surveys. They could detect a 100 watt laser (the energy of a normal household bulb) from 25 trillion miles away.

    Listen combines these instruments with innovative software and data analysis techniques.

    The initiative will span 10 years and commit a total of $100,000,000.

    More information on Breakthrough Listen is available at https://breakthroughinitiatives.org/Initiative/1

    But today, the telescope and the facility that supports it are under federal review — with the possibility of losing funding or being dismantled.

    In the face of that threat, one West Virginia family hopes to convince the powers that be of the facility’s value to science, education and the small town in which the telescope resides.

    “It’s almost like a tiny metropolitan city in the middle of rural West Virginia,” said Ellie White, a 16-year-old from Barboursville, West Virginia. “That kind of resource is invaluable for kids across the state and across the country, who are going to be tomorrow’s innovators, engineers, scientists, politicians, artists.”

    White’s family volunteered to start a campaign called Go Green Bank Observatory to rally support from across the country and show the National Science Foundation, which used to almost completely fund the observatory, that Green Bank Observatory is worth keeping. In 2012, the NSF published a portfolio review that recommended at least partially divesting from several observatories around the country that no longer have as large of a scientific impact as they used to. Green Bank Observatory was on that list.

    Proposed operational changes for Green Bank Observatory range from continuing to partially fund its operations to shutting down its research operations and turning it into a technology park, or completely tearing it down.

    “This is one of the difficult things the NSF has to do,” said Edward Ahjar, an astronomer at the NSF. “All of our facilities do great science, and that’s why we fund them. But when we start having less and less money to spread around, then we have to prioritize them. Which are doing the most important science now? Which are lower ranked?”

    The Fight to Keep Green Bank Observatory Open

    Last fall, Go Green Bank Observatory encouraged fans to speak at two public scoping meetings where Ahjar and other representatives from the NSF would be present to hear the public’s input about the divestment process.

    About 350 people filled the seats of an auditorium at the observatory. Several in attendance were affiliated with West Virginia University, which since 2006 has received more than $14.5 million in grant dollars for research related to the Green Bank Telescope.

    “When I started applying for graduate school, WVU was one of my top choices,” said Kaustubh Rajwade, a graduate student from India in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at WVU. “The only reason I came here was so I could use the Green Bank Telescope.”

    Others, like Buster Varner, a local fire chief, were more concerned about Green Bank Observatory’s role in the community as a de facto community center, where people can hold meetings and classes.

    “Whenever we had a catastrophe, we can go to Mike,” Varner said, referring to Mike Holstine, the business manager at Green Bank Observatory. “I don’t know much about this science, and there’s a lot of people here who does and that’s great. But I do not want anything to happen to this facility, period.”

    The NSF once almost completely funded Green Bank Observatory’s operations. But Holstine said that especially in the past five years, the observatory saw a need to diversify its sources of funding — in part because outside organizations and researchers expressed a willingness to pay for time on the telescope, but also due to the clear indicators that the observatory needed to rely less on the NSF.

    Green Bank Observatory employs between 100 and 140 people — more than half of whom are from Pocahontas County — depending on the time of year. The money also helps the observatory maintain its own infrastructure in an isolated and rural area.

    “You kind of need to think of us as a town, a self-contained town,” Holstine explained. “We have our own roads. We have our own water system. We have our own wastewater system. We take care of our own buildings. We mow our own grass; we cut our own trees. We have to plow snow in the winter.”

    A Future Without Green Bank Observatory

    For White, the Observatory isn’t only worth keeping because of its accomplishments — but also because of its efforts to train the next generation of scientists. When she was younger, White was convinced she wanted to be an artist when she grew up. But since playing among the telescopes as a child, she has gone on to work on projects under the mentorship of astronomers and graduate students from all over the world.

    She’s not the only teen who’s been impacted by the observatory’s work; through the Pulsar Search Collaboratory, more than 2,000 high school students have worked with the Green Bank Observatory through a partnership with West Virginia University since 2007.

    “Just generally being here, you learn something every day. It’s like learning a new language through immersion,” White said.

    The NSF will reach its decision about the Green Bank Observatory’s fate by the end of this year or the beginning of next year. At 16 years old, White hopes to get her doctorate in astrophysics and one day find full employment at the observatory. If it shuts down, White said, she might have to look for employment out of state.

    See the full article here .

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    Mission Statement

    Green Bank Observatory enables leading edge research at radio wavelengths by offering telescope, facility and advanced instrumentation access to the astronomy community as well as to other basic and applied research communities. With radio astronomy as its foundation, the Green Bank Observatory is a world leader in advancing research, innovation, and education.

    History

    60 years ago, the trailblazers of American radio astronomy declared this facility their home, establishing the first ever National Radio Astronomy Observatory within the United States and the first ever national laboratory dedicated to open access science. Today their legacy is alive and well.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:50 am on November 8, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Breakthrough Listen initiative, ,   

    From Astronomy Now: “Breakthrough Listen searches new-found nearby planet Proxima b for signs of ET” 

    Astronomy Now bloc

    Astronomy Now

    8 November 2016
    No writer credit found

    1
    The 64-metre-wide Parkes Radio Telescope in New South Wales, Australia is affectionately known as “The Dish.” It played an iconic role in receiving the first deliberate transmissions from the surface of another world, as the astronauts of Apollo 11 set foot on our Moon. Now, Parkes joins once again in expanding human horizons as we search for the answer to one of our oldest questions: Are we alone? Image credit: Parkes Radio Telescope © 2005 Shaun Amy.

    Breakthrough Listen, the 10-year, $100-million astronomical search for intelligent life beyond Earth launched in 2015 by Internet entrepreneur Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking, today announced its first observations using the Parkes Radio Telescope in New South Wales, Australia.

    Parkes joins the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia, USA, and the Automated Planet Finder (APF) at Lick Observatory in California, USA, in their ongoing surveys to determine whether civilisations elsewhere have developed technologies similar to our own.

    gbo-logo
    GBO radio telescope, West Virginia, USA
    GBO radio telescope, West Virginia, USA

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA
    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

    Parkes radio telescope is part of the Australia Telescope National Facility, owned and managed by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

    Drawing on over nine months of experience in operation of the dedicated Breakthrough Listen instrument at GBT, a team of scientists and engineers from the University of California, Berkeley’s SETI Research Center (BSRC) deployed similar hardware at Parkes, bringing Breakthrough Listen’s unprecedented search tools to a wide range of sky inaccessible from the GBT. The Southern Hemisphere sky is rich with targets, including the centre of our own Milky Way galaxy, large swaths of the galactic plane, and numerous other galaxies in the nearby universe.

    “The Dish” at Parkes played an iconic role in receiving the first deliberate transmissions from the surface of another world, as the astronauts of Apollo 11 set foot on our Moon. Now, Parkes joins once again in expanding human horizons as we search for the answer to one of our oldest questions: Are we alone?

    “The Parkes Radio Telescope is a superb instrument, with a rich history,” said Pete Worden, Chairman of Breakthrough Prize Foundation and Executive Director of the Breakthrough Initiatives. “We’re very pleased to be collaborating with CSIRO to take Listen to the next level.”

    With its new combined all-sky range, superb telescope sensitivity and computing capacity, Breakthrough Listen is the most powerful, comprehensive, and intensive scientific search ever undertaken for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth.

    Moreover, this expansion of Breakthrough Listen’s range follows the announcement on 12 October that it will be joining forces with the new FAST telescope — the world’s largest filled-aperture radio receiver — to coordinate their searches for artificial signals. The two programs will exchange observing plans, search methods and data, including the rapid sharing of promising new signals for additional observation and analysis. The partnership represents a major step toward establishing a fully connected, global search for intelligent life in the universe.

    “The addition of Parkes is an important milestone,” said Yuri Milner, founder of the Breakthrough Initiatives, which include Breakthrough Listen. “These major instruments are the ears of planet Earth, and now they are listening for signs of other civilisations.”

    First light focused on exo-Earth

    After 14 days of commissioning and test observations, first light for Breakthrough Listen at Parkes was achieved on 7 November, with an observation of the newly-discovered Earth-size planet orbiting the nearest star to the Sun. Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf star 4.2 light-years from Earth, is now known to have a planet (“Proxima b”) within its habitable zone — the region where water could exist in liquid form on the planet’s surface. Such “exo-Earths” (habitable zone exoplanets) are among the primary targets for Breakthrough Listen.

    Centauris Alpha Beta Proxima 27, February 2012. Skatebiker
    Centauris Alpha Beta Proxima 27, February 2012. Skatebiker

    “The chances of any particular planet hosting intelligent life-forms are probably minuscule,” said Andrew Siemion, director of UC Berkeley SETI Research Center. “But once we knew there was a planet right next door, we had to ask the question, and it was a fitting first observation for Parkes. To find a civilisation just 4.2 light-years away would change everything.”

    As the closest known exoplanet, Proxima b is also the current primary target for Breakthrough Listen’s sister initiative, Breakthrough Starshot, which is developing the technology to send gram-scale spacecraft to the nearest stars.

    “Parkes is one of the most highly cited radio telescopes in the world, with a long list of achievements to its credit, including the discovery of the first ‘fast radio burst.’ Parkes’ unique view of the southern sky, and cutting-edge instrumentation, means we have a great opportunity to contribute to the search for extra-terrestrial life,” said Douglas Bock, Director of CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:45 pm on October 18, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Breakthrough Listen initiative, , Stephen Hawking's alien-hunting project is investigating strange signals from 234 stars   

    From Science Alert: “Stephen Hawking’s alien-hunting project is investigating strange signals from 234 stars” 

    ScienceAlert

    Science Alert

    18 OCT 2016
    BEC CREW

    1
    Galaxy distribution map by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey [SDSS]

    SDSS Telescope at Apache Point, NM, USA
    SDSS Telescope at Apache Point, NM, USA

    “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

    Astronomers have been analysing light signals from 2.5 million stars observed by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and have detected strange ‘strobe-like’ bursts coming from not one, but 234 stars.

    The pair went so far as to suggest that these light pulses “have exactly the shape of an Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence signal”, and now Stephen Hawking’s alien-hunting mission is on the case to confirm or disprove these claims.

    Let’s be clear right off the bat – the claim by astronomers Ermanno Borra and Eric Trottier from Laval University in Canada that 234 extra-terrestrial civilisations might be beaming a coordinated light signal towards Earth based on anomalies in the data is extremely premature.

    It’s also pretty irresponsible to be throwing the possibility of “Aliens!” around, given the fact that the paper has yet to be formally peer-reviewed, and replication of the results has not been attempted by an independent research team.

    It’s also worth noting that researchers from the Breakthrough Listen project – funded by Stephen Hawking and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, and run by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Research Centre at the University of California Berkeley – say aliens are about the last thing they expect to find when they investigate these claims.

    But when the Universe – or let’s be honest, human error – serves up something intriguing, it’s almost always worth a second look.

    “The one in 10,000 objects with unusual spectra seen by Borra and Trottier are certainly worthy of additional study,” the SETI Research Centre announced in a statement last week.

    “However, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. It is too early to unequivocally attribute these purported signals to the activities of extraterrestrial civilisations.”

    So let’s run through what Borra and Trottier have actually found.

    Things start off a little wobbly, because as Shannon Hall explains for New Scientist, Borra had hypothesised back in 2012 that if an extraterrestrial civilisation wanted to contact us, it would make sense to beam laser pulses at us that look unnatural enough to warrant investigation.

    He said the kind of energy required to blast such a signal towards Earth from elsewhere in the galaxy “is not crazy”, so he teamed up with Trottier to pore over the 2.5 million stars recorded by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to see if any of them have produced such a signal.

    And there’s our first warning signal – a good scientist knows not to approach data with a preferred result or preconceived notion in mind, because that can introduce bias, and the scientist could subconsciously (or otherwise) ignore information that goes against that.

    The pair reports that they detected the exact type of signal they had been looking for in some 234 stars.

    As Hall explains for New Scientist, if you take the aliens out of it, what they found was that the overwhelming majority of the 2.5 million stars are in the same spectral class as our Sun, but 234 of them are beaming pulses of the same periodicity – roughly 1.65 picoseconds – towards Earth.

    Could it be human or software error in data calibration or analysis? Absolutely, and the pair’s conclusions have – not surprisingly – been met with a whole lot of criticism in the scientific community.

    “There is perhaps no bolder claim that one could make in observational astrophysics than the discovery of intelligent life beyond the Earth,” director of the SETI Research Centre at Berkeley, Andrew Siemion, told Hall.

    “It’s an incredibly profound subject – and of course that’s why many of us devote our lives to the field and put so much energy into trying to answer these questions. But you can’t make such definitive statements about detections unless you’ve exhausted every possible means of follow-up.”

    That’s why the SETI Research Centre and the Breakthrough Listen project have decided to get involved – they want to know what’s really going on here.

    They explain that we already have internationally agreed-upon protocols if you want to find evidence of advanced life beyond Earth, which include independent verification using two or more telescopes, and “careful work” to determine false positive rates and rule out all other explanations.

    They’ve also established a 0 to 10 scale for quantifying detections of phenomena that may indicate the existence of advanced life beyond the Earth called the Rio Scale.

    They say the Borra-Trottier result is currently a 0 or 1 (“None/Insignificant”) on this scale, but they’re still determined to get to the bottom of things.

    “The Berkeley SETI Research Centre team has added several stars from the Borra and Trottier sample to the Breakthrough Listen observing queue on the 2.4-metre Automated Planet Finder (APF) optical telescope,” they announced last week.

    “The capabilities of the APF spectrograph are well matched to those of the original detection, and these independent follow-up observations will enable us to verify or refute the reported detections.”

    We’ll have to wait and see what they find, but let’s all be glad that if someone wants to throw claims of aliens around, they’d better be ready to answer to the SETI researchers first.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 6:40 am on July 13, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Breakthrough Listen initiative, Finding E.T., ,   

    From INVERSE: “Alien-Hunting 19 Years After ‘Contact’ “ 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    July 12, 2016
    Sarah Sloat

    Jodie Foster’s Eleanor Arroway and her mission would be less of a joke today.

    One of the most realistic parts of Contact is the blatant sexism that the brilliant young astronomer Eleanor Arroway encounters throughout the 1997 extraterrestrial-hunting film. The rumored inspiration for Arroway — Jill Tarter — said in 1999 that author Carl Sagan, who wrote the novel the movie was based off of, “included many of the ‘character-building’ experiences that are common to women scientists studying and working in a male-dominated profession, so Ellie seems very familiar to me.”

    SETI Jill Tarter
    Jill Tarter

    Carl Sagan
    Carl Sagan

    “Character-building” in this scenario is being a prominent SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) astronomer who has to deal with backward dudes who think your scientific expertise is laughable science fiction and won’t take you seriously because you’re a woman. Great.

    SETI Institute

    But for a movie that ends up with our protagonist on an intergalactic pseudo-beach chatting with an alien posing as her father, you may be surprised to know that what Contact nails doesn’t stop there. Contact’s realism is a reflection of the fact that Sagan knew what he was talking about. Until her breakthrough, Arroway lives a convincing life as a scientist — working out of the same observatories as real SETI researchers, fighting for funding, and hunting for alien life by listening for radio signals between 1,200 and 3,000 MHz from systematically selected stars.

    But what makes Arroway’s discovery of alien-transmitted communication from the star Vega awesome material for a Hollywood blockbuster is that it’s sold as a fantasy. Sagan knew the real science going on behind the fiction he created, but people who bought movie tickets didn’t. People in 1997 didn’t believe in SETI initiatives any more than the antagonists Arroway encountered.

    If Contact was to get a remake today (but seriously, no) it wouldn’t be able to instill the same sense of bewildered wonder. And that is a very good thing, namely because the work that Arroway portrays in the film is finally getting its due as a respectable field of science. Contact has proven to be prescient in 2016 (save for the actual we’ve-gotten-a-message-from-aliens part).

    Take billionaire Yuri Milner: In Contact Arroway’s work (and eventual voyage to Vega) is saved by the financial intervention of Dr. Hadden Suit, whose wealth seemingly has no bounds. Suit works from the shadows, moving the pieces in Arroway’s life, without the public knowing of the alien-hunting science going on behind closed doors. Comparatively, Milner is a real life financier who has made his intentions to help find evidence of extra-terrestrials extremely public.

    In 2015, Milner announced his Breakthrough Listen initiative in collaboration with the SETI program at the University of California, Berkeley — a $100 million project that uses telescopes to listen for extraterrestrial radio signals and search for laser signals.

    Telescopes in the Breakthrough Listen initiative
    UC Observatories Lick APF
    UC Observatories Lick APF

    NRAO/GBT radio telescope, West Virginia, USA
    NRAO/GBT radio telescope, West Virginia, USA

    CSIRO/Parkes Observatory
    CSIRO/Parkes Observatory

    In January, he announced another $100 million dollar project with Breakthrough Starshot, an enterprise that plans to send laser-powered lightsails to the star system Alpha Centauri with the eventual goal of encountering life in deep space. That line, in any other year, would seem straight-up ridiculous.

    1
    A Breakthrough Starshot solar sail.

    But things are a bit different in 2016. Arroway probably would not need to patiently break down how radio signals work to suits in the U.S. government when they begin to investigate her work; they’d probably already know what’s going on. Just look at the development of the FAST telescope being built in China, which Zheng Xiaonian of the Chinese Academy of Sciences says will have “the potential to search for more strange objects to better understand the origin of the universe and boost the global hunt for extraterrestrial life.”

    FAST Chinese Radio telescope under construction, Guizhou Province, China
    FAST Chinese Radio telescope under construction, Guizhou Province, China

    But mainly, a scientist of Arroway’s caliber wouldn’t have to take the same sort of inane criticism. SETI researchers are increasingly aware that they are no longer fringe weirdos. SETI communications director Seth Shostak told Inverse in January that, “I think there may be truth to SETI being taken more seriously by the public and it may be a consequence of the discovery of exoplanets filtering down to the public.”

    And while funding for exploratory science continues to be a struggle, SETI has been able to continue — and even increase — its programs. While it continues to monitor radio waves, sometimes with help of public laptops, SETI is also able to use optical instruments to look for lasers and light patterns that could signify the presence of aliens.

    In fact, on Thursday, SETI’s Institute Director of Research Nathalie Cabrol published a proposal arguing for further developing alien-hunting techniques, specifically through the establishment of Virtual Institute with “new detection strategies.”

    “To find E.T., we must open our minds beyond a deeply-rooted, Earth-centric perspective, expand our research methods, and deploy new tools,” said Cabrol in a press statement. “Never before has so much data been available in so many scientific disciplines to help us grasp the role of probabilistic events in the development of extraterrestrial intelligence. These data tell us that each world is a unique planetary experiment.”

    Cabrol’s words are comparable to that of Arroway’s, who praises the “acquisition of technology” as the catalyst for finally making contact probable. The good news for us: Cabrol is real, and one day, contact with aliens might be too.

    See the full article here .

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