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  • richardmitnick 12:52 pm on January 28, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astro 2020: Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics, , , , Breakthrough Listen Project, , , Technosignatures   

    From Science News: “It’s time to start taking the search for E.T. seriously, astronomers say” 

    From Science News

    January 28, 2019
    Lisa Grossman

    WE’RE LISTENING The Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia was the first to listen for signals from intelligent aliens in 1960. The radio telescope has gotten back into the search for extraterrestrial intelligence in recent years.



    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

    Long an underfunded, fringe field of science, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence may be ready to go mainstream.

    Astronomer Jason Wright is determined to see that happen. At a meeting in Seattle of the American Astronomical Society in January, Wright convened “a little ragtag group in a tiny room” to plot a course for putting the scientific field, known as SETI, on NASA’s agenda.

    The group is writing a series of papers arguing that scientists should be searching the universe for “technosignatures” — any sign of alien technology, from radio signals to waste heat. The hope is that those papers will go into a report to Congress at the end of 2020 detailing the astronomical community’s priorities. That report, Astro 2020: Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics, will determine which telescopes fly and which studies receive federal funding through the next decade.

    “The stakes are high,” says Wright, of Penn State University. “If the decadal survey says, ‘SETI is a national science priority, and NSF and NASA need to fund it,’ they will do it.”

    SETI searches date back to 1960, when astronomer Frank Drake used the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia to listen for signals from an intelligent civilization (SN Online: 11/1/09). But NASA didn’t start a formal SETI program until 1992, only to see it canceled within a year by a skeptical Congress.

    Drake Equation, Frank Drake, Seti Institute


    Frank Drake speaking at Cornell University in Schwartz Auditorium, 19 October 2017 by Amalex5

    Private organizations picked up the baton, including the SETI Institute, founded in Mountain View, Calif., in 1985 by astronomer Jill Tarter — the inspiration for Jodie Foster’s character in the movie Contact (SN Online: 5/29/12).

    Jill Tarter Image courtesy of Jill Tarter

    SETI/Allen Telescope Array situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, 290 miles (470 km) northeast of San Francisco, California, USA, Altitude 986 m (3,235 ft)

    Then in 2015, Russian billionaires Yuri and Julia Milner launched the Breakthrough Initiatives to join the hunt for E.T.

    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


    SKA Meerkat telescope, 90 km outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon, SA

    But the search for technosignatures still hasn’t become a more serious, self-sustaining scientific discipline, Wright says.

    “If NASA were to declare technosignatures a scientific priority, then we would be able to apply for money to work on it. We would be able to train students to do it,” Wright says. “Then we could catch up” to more mature fields of astronomy, he says.

    Wright himself is a relative newcomer to SETI, entering the field in 2014 with a study on searching for heat from alien technology. He was also one of a group to suggest that the oddly flickering “Tabby’s star” could be surrounded by an alien megastructure — and then to debunk that idea with more data (SN: 9/30/17, p. 11).

    In the last five years, scientists’ attitudes toward the search for intelligent alien life have been changing, Wright says. SETI used to have a “giggle factor,” raising images of little green men, he says. And talking about SETI work as an astronomer was considered taboo, if not academic suicide. Now, not so much. “I have the pop sociology theory that the ascension of geek culture has something to do with it,” Wright says. “Now it’s like all the top movies are comic books and science fiction.”

    When NASA requested a report in 2018 on what technosignatures are and how to look for them, SETI researchers thought hopefully that the space agency might be ready to get back into the SETI game. Colleagues tapped Wright to organize a meeting to prepare the technosignatures report, posted online December 20 at arXiv.org.

    But Wright didn’t stop there. He convened the new workshop group with the goal of dividing up the work of writing at least nine papers on specific SETI opportunities for the decadal survey. By contrast, there was only one submission on SETI research, written by Tarter, in the 2010 decadal survey.

    The SETI situation has also evolved since the 2009 launch of the Kepler space telescope, which discovered thousands of exoplanets before its mission ended in 2018 (SN Online: 10/30/18). Some of those planets outside our solar system are similar in size and temperature to Earth, raising hopes that they may also host life. Old arguments that planets like Earth are rare “don’t hold much water any longer,” Wright says.

    The exoplanet rush has sparked a surge in research about biosignatures, signs of microbial life on other planets. NASA’s next big space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, is planning to search directly for signs of alien life in exoplanet atmospheres (SN: 4/30/16, p. 32). So far, though, no one has found any biosignatures, let alone technosignatures. But the focus on searching for the one makes the case for ignoring the other seem all the weaker, Wright says.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 7:48 pm on September 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Breakthrough Listen Project, , , Yuri and Julia Milner   

    From UCSC Lick via Hong Kong Tatler: “Meet The Milners: Written In The Stars” 

    UC Santa Cruz

    From UC Santa Cruz

    via

    2

    Hong Kong Tatlar

    1

    September 15, 2018
    Sean Fitzpatrick

    There were too many uncanny signs in the life of billionaire philanthropist Yuri Milner for him to ignore a childhood calling. We travel to Silicon Valley to meet him and his wife, Julia, and find out about their quest to solve the question: Are we alone?

    There could have been a giant pyramid in California. In the late 1800s, James Lick, a property tycoon who had become California’s richest person, wanted to leave a legacy and took inspiration from Egypt’s pharaohs. The Pyramids of Giza have long sparked the collective imagination, with some experts positing that they were built as afterlife launchpads, designed to send the soul of departed rulers shooting up into the stars.

    And, like a modern-day pharaoh, Lick wanted to be buried inside his creation, perhaps harbouring a hope that his soul would be sent on an eternal voyage through the cosmos. However, Lick was talked out of it by an astronomer friend who suggested that a more philanthropic legacy would be to fund the establishment of a world-class observatory.

    Perched atop San Jose’s Mount Hamilton, the Lick Observatory was officially opened in 1887 and housed what was at the time the world’s largest refracting telescope [see below]. But by then its benefactor had passed away; at the base of the telescope mounting—a thick metal column visible in the images on the previous two spreads—hangs a plaque that reads, “Here lies the body of James Lick.”

    UCSC Lick Observatory, Mt Hamilton, in San Jose, California, Altitude 1,283 m (4,209 ft)

    .

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    Photo: Austin Hargrave for Hong Kong Tatler

    The couple in the image above are Yuri and Julia Milner, the modern-day philanthropists who are funding one of the projects at the Lick Observatory. Together they form a striking pair, looking as if they have walked out of the latest X-Men movie, he the gifted mastermind and she the lithe heroine with otherworldly powers.

    The Milners are well known in global tech circles; Yuri’s early investments in Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Spotify, Alibaba and JD, as well as his pioneering role in Russia’s nascent tech industry in the ’90s, have earned him a US$4 billion fortune and a place on numerous published lists of the world’s top tech titans. Through the company he founded, DST Global, Yuri has more recently invested in Meituan and Didi.

    But it is for their philanthropic projects that the Milners are perhaps best known. As founders of the Breakthrough Prize, the couple are committed to supporting science with awards and by raising its profile among the influential as well as the general public.

    Julia and Yuri, a former physicist, have pulled together a formidable network of supporters through regular gatherings at their sprawling Los Altos mansion, private screenings of science-themed movies and, surprisingly, through games of their favoured sport, badminton, which is apparently de rigueur in Silicon Valley circles. The couple take the sport so seriously that they receive training from a Chinese coach who worked with the US Olympic team.

    4
    Photo: Austin Hargrave for Hong Kong Tatler

    5
    Photo: Austin Hargrave for Hong Kong Tatler

    The Breakthrough Prize is co-funded by a who’s who of Silicon Valley: Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan of Facebook, Google’s Sergey Brin, and Anne Wojcicki, the founder of genome-testing company 23andMe. The most recent addition is Tencent co-founder Pony Ma.

    With this calibre of patronage one would expect sizeable financial incentives and indeed there are: the Breakthrough Prize awards six prizes each year to outstanding scientists—four for work in the life sciences, one for physics and one for mathematics. Each award comes with a cash payment of US$3 million, nearly three times that of a Nobel Prize.

    Since 2012, the prizes have been handed out at a lavish event held in Hangar One, the iconic mid-century modern structure in Silicon Valley, which is televised live around the world. Hollywood stars, wrangled by Julia, and tech entrepreneurs, wrangled by Yuri, share the stage with boffins in what is often called the Oscars of science.

    Says Julia, “Who are today’s superstars? Hollywood actors, athletes, Instagram bloggers. Scientists are completely unknown to most people. We wanted—to put it very literally—to make them celebrities too, and in this way popularise science.”

    “If celebrity is the measure of our priorities as a civilisation, then we need science to be more represented because science should be one of the main priorities, if not the priority,” adds Yuri. “And celebrities are now the ones talking to hundreds of millions of people. If we don’t have scientists represented, then their message will get lost. And if their message is lost, there’ll be no public support for science.”

    But the Milners’ efforts to raise awareness are working. In 2015, the foundation created the Breakthrough Junior Challenge for teenagers with the winner receiving a US$250,000 university scholarship, US$50,000 for the teacher who inspired them and a US$100,000 upgrade for their school’s science lab.

    The inaugural recipient, a Cleveland-based 18-year-old named Ryan Chester, was honoured by his hometown in an unexpected way: “The mayor issued a decree for a day of the year to be named after Ryan, to celebrate science. That’s the type of thing we’re looking for. The word spreads,” explains Yuri. “We would like the next generation, the young people to watch this ceremony. And now we are thinking of branching out with a dedicated prize for high-school kids in China.”

    Aside from the Breakthrough Prize, the Milners’ foundation also supports Breakthrough Initiatives, highly ambitious projects designed to help find the answer to what they believe is the most profound question of our time: Are we alone in the universe? It is a question that has fascinated Yuri since childhood.

    Born in Moscow in 1961 to Jewish intellectuals, Yuri—who was named after Yuri Gagarin, the Russian cosmonaut who that same year became the first man in space—reaped the benefit of a well-stocked home library from a young age, “even before I went to school.” His favourite book and the one that inspired his lifelong fascination was Universe, Life, Intelligence, a seminal text by a Soviet astronomer, Iosif Samuilovich Shklovsky. (The book also caught the attention of US astronomer Carl Sagan, who published an English-language edition; Sagan later gained global fame with the TV show Cosmos.)

    Carl Sagan NASA/JPL

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    Photo: Austin Hargrave for Hong Kong Tatler

    Yuri’s passion led him to study theoretical physics at Moscow State University and then work as a physicist alongside Nobel Prize winners. Despite his passion, Yuri felt his contributions to the field were limited and he decided to change tack. In 1990, he took an MBA course at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, becoming the first non-emigre from the Soviet Union to do so. By the time the decade (and millennium) came to close, Yuri had shifted his focus completely onto the internet.

    It was during this period that he found himself at a Moscow gym, standing on a treadmill next to a tall, striking model by the name of Julia Bochkova from Siberia’s capital, Novosibirsk. The two clicked immediately, perhaps in part because she was undergoing a career change of her own.

    Since the age of 14, when she was scouted by an agency, Julia had travelled extensively, dividing her time between the world’s fashion centres, New York, Paris and Tokyo. “Then at about 20 years old I decided to stop my modelling career. Since I had made some money, I could leave and plan what to do next. So I lived in Moscow, where Yuri advised me to study photography,” she says.

    The advice proved to be sound: Julia’s successful studies and apprenticeships under notable artists culminated in her own exhibitions around the world and, in 2007, Julia was invited to participate in the prestigious Venice Biennale, where she was the youngest artist.

    For the show, Julia created an unusual work, one of the first “internet art” installations, Click I Hope, which displays “I hope” in 50 languages on a giant touch screen as well as the internet. As the words glide across the screen, viewers are encouraged to touch the ones in their own language, triggering a live tallied score.

    Although conceived before the Milners’ foundation, the work somehow pre-empts the sense of relentless hopefulness that imbues the Breakthrough Initiatives and the vastness of the search for life in the cosmos.

    For a couple whose work is mired so heavily in science’s immutable axioms of rationality and reason, a series of uncanny coincidences has occurred. When the couple relocated from Tel Aviv to Silicon Valley with their children in 2011, they bought a US$100 million mansion on a hilltop in Los Altos.

    The mansion boasts state-of-the-art technology, including a video-screen ceiling (which typically displays dramatic scenes of supernovas) as well as giant TVs in every room showing Nat Geo or Discovery, the preferred channels of the notoriously sleep-averse Yuri.

    But unbeknown to the couple at the time of purchase, the house played a historic role in the establishment of Seti, the organisation that takes its name from the acronym for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. A previous owner, who was a chief engineer at Hewlett-Packard, willed the house to Seti after his death in order to fund its mission.

    And, in another twist, Seti convened its very first meeting in 1961, which Yuri is quick to point out is the year of his birth.


    8
    Photo: Austin Hargrave for Hong Kong Tatler

    According to him, there’s never been a better time to engage in the search for alien life. Nasa’s Kepler spacecraft observatory, launched in 2009, has shown the world that there are many more planets than previously thought. “It turns out that there are many of them and almost every star-like sun has a planet like Earth, basically. It means that there are dozens of billions of planets like Earth in our galaxy alone. There are a hundred billion galaxies in the visible universe, so you multiply that hundred billion by dozens of billions and you get a very big number of possibilities. A few years ago, we didn’t know that. So now we know,” he says, with a nonchalance that belies the mind-boggling scale of his concept.

    The Milners’ Breakthrough Listen project is designed to harness the world’s best telescopes—from California’s Lick Observatory to the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and Australia’s Parkes Observatory—to look for signs of civilisation on one of those many, many billions of planets.

    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

    The facilities’ operators, mostly academic institutions, were only too happy to accept the foundation’s much-needed funding in return for usage time, especially since “in the last few years there’s been a dramatic improvement in our understanding of the odds and probabilities of [alien life] existing. So that’s why it’s harder and harder to believe that we’re alone. It’s not impossible but it’s less likely than it was a few years ago.”

    One criticism levelled at those searching for alien life stems from what is known as the Fermi paradox: if alien civilisation is so inevitable, then why haven’t we met them yet? Some have countered this with the suggestion that advanced civilisations can often cause their own destruction, a notion not inconceivable given our own relatively recent threats of thermonuclear conflict. With the current political climate charged by global tensions, how do the Milners see themselves?

    “We think about ourselves as the product of globalisation,” says Yuri. “We were born in Russia. I was born into a Jewish family and Julia was born into a Christian family. Julia had her modelling career in Europe and Japan. I studied at Wharton. Our kids were born in Israel and the US. We live in Silicon Valley. We spend time in Asia. So it’s hard for us now to really establish a key affiliation. We see one global civilisation. When you look at our projects, they all assume that our planet is one: we’re looking for [alien] civilisations. And if we establish communication, I don’t think we will be telling them about our different countries. We are not going to be talking about elections. We will be talking about what makes us human. In a thousand years we will be one world. And, by the way, a thousand years is a very short period of time in the 14-billion-year history of our universe.”

    The most astonishing manifestation of Yuri’s cosmic dream falls under Breakthrough Starshot, a US$100 million project so awe-inspiring that it dwarfs the unfettered ambition of James Lick’s giant Californian pyramid by several orders of magnitude.

    Breakthrough Starshot will research the possibility of manufacturing thousands of nano-spaceships resembling microchips. These could be blasted out into space towards Alpha Centauri, the star system closest to our solar system that could potentially harbour life on its planets.

    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

    As the chips hurtle past the celestial bodies at one-fifth the speed of light, they will capture information on their sensors and beam it back to Earth. The journey there will take about 20 years, and the data will take four years to get back to Earth.

    The hope is that it will include intelligence about alien worlds. The laser technology required to blast the chips is still being developed but the clock is ticking; the Milners hope to receive the information about Alpha Centauri within the lifetime of a generation.

    Like James Lick, they may never see the completion of their mission but, as Yuri explains, that is immaterial: “This laser beam will not only send probes to Alpha Centauri, it will continue. The most incredible revelation we realised through calculations is that this beam of light will be the first artefact of our civilisation that can cut across the whole universe. In other words, if there is another galaxy 10 billion light years away, in 10 billion years they will receive it and know that our civilisation existed—even if we don’t exist anymore. It will be something that we will leave behind and will never be erased. If we encode all of our knowledge in this powerful beam of light, it could be our civilisation’s ultimate legacy in the universe.”

    Credits
    Photography: Austin Hargrave | Styling: Tara Nichols | Hair and Make-up: Lisa Strutz | Producer: Joe Daley | Location: Lick Observatory, California

    See the full article here


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    UCO Lick Shane Telescope
    UCO Lick Shane Telescope interior
    Shane Telescope at UCO Lick Observatory, UCSC

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

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

    UC Santa Cruz campus
    The University of California, Santa Cruz, opened in 1965 and grew, one college at a time, to its current (2008-09) enrollment of more than 16,000 students. Undergraduates pursue more than 60 majors supervised by divisional deans of humanities, physical & biological sciences, social sciences, and arts. Graduate students work toward graduate certificates, master’s degrees, or doctoral degrees in more than 30 academic fields under the supervision of the divisional and graduate deans. The dean of the Jack Baskin School of Engineering oversees the campus’s undergraduate and graduate engineering programs.

    UCSC is the home base for the Lick Observatory.

    Lick Observatory's Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building
    Lick Observatory’s Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building

    Search for extraterrestrial intelligence expands at Lick Observatory
    New instrument scans the sky for pulses of infrared light
    March 23, 2015
    By Hilary Lebow
    1
    The NIROSETI instrument saw first light on the Nickel 1-meter Telescope at Lick Observatory on March 15, 2015. (Photo by Laurie Hatch) UCSC Lick Nickel telescope

    Astronomers are expanding the search for extraterrestrial intelligence into a new realm with detectors tuned to infrared light at UC’s Lick Observatory. A new instrument, called NIROSETI, will soon scour the sky for messages from other worlds.

    “Infrared light would be an excellent means of interstellar communication,” said Shelley Wright, an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego who led the development of the new instrument while at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics.

    Wright worked on an earlier SETI project at Lick Observatory as a UC Santa Cruz undergraduate, when she built an optical instrument designed by UC Berkeley researchers. The infrared project takes advantage of new technology not available for that first optical search.

    Infrared light would be a good way for extraterrestrials to get our attention here on Earth, since pulses from a powerful infrared laser could outshine a star, if only for a billionth of a second. Interstellar gas and dust is almost transparent to near infrared, so these signals can be seen from great distances. It also takes less energy to send information using infrared signals than with visible light.

    Frank Drake, professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and director emeritus of the SETI Institute, said there are several additional advantages to a search in the infrared realm.

    “The signals are so strong that we only need a small telescope to receive them. Smaller telescopes can offer more observational time, and that is good because we need to search many stars for a chance of success,” said Drake.

    The only downside is that extraterrestrials would need to be transmitting their signals in our direction, Drake said, though he sees this as a positive side to that limitation. “If we get a signal from someone who’s aiming for us, it could mean there’s altruism in the universe. I like that idea. If they want to be friendly, that’s who we will find.”

    Scientists have searched the skies for radio signals for more than 50 years and expanded their search into the optical realm more than a decade ago. The idea of searching in the infrared is not a new one, but instruments capable of capturing pulses of infrared light only recently became available.

    “We had to wait,” Wright said. “I spent eight years waiting and watching as new technology emerged.”

    Now that technology has caught up, the search will extend to stars thousands of light years away, rather than just hundreds. NIROSETI, or Near-Infrared Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, could also uncover new information about the physical universe.

    “This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales,” said Dan Werthimer, UC Berkeley SETI Project Director. “The instrument could discover new astrophysical phenomena, or perhaps answer the question of whether we are alone.”

    NIROSETI will also gather more information than previous optical detectors by recording levels of light over time so that patterns can be analyzed for potential signs of other civilizations.

    “Searching for intelligent life in the universe is both thrilling and somewhat unorthodox,” said Claire Max, director of UC Observatories and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “Lick Observatory has already been the site of several previous SETI searches, so this is a very exciting addition to the current research taking place.”

    NIROSETI will be fully operational by early summer and will scan the skies several times a week on the Nickel 1-meter telescope at Lick Observatory, located on Mt. Hamilton east of San Jose.

    The NIROSETI team also includes Geoffrey Marcy and Andrew Siemion from UC Berkeley; Patrick Dorval, a Dunlap undergraduate, and Elliot Meyer, a Dunlap graduate student; and Richard Treffers of Starman Systems. Funding for the project comes from the generous support of Bill and Susan Bloomfield.

     
  • richardmitnick 6:53 pm on September 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Breakthrough Listen Project, , , , , The notorious repeating fast radio source FRB 121102,   

    From Breakthrough Listen via Science Alert: “Astronomers Have Detected an Astonishing 72 New Mystery Radio Bursts From Space “ 

    From Breakthrough Listen Project

    via

    ScienceAlert

    Science Alert

    11 SEP 2018
    MICHELLE STARR

    A massive number of new signals have been discovered coming from the notorious repeating fast radio source FRB 121102 – and we can thank artificial intelligence for these findings.

    Researchers at the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) project Breakthrough Listen applied machine learning to comb through existing data, and found 72 fast radio bursts that had previously been missed.

    Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are among the most mysterious phenomena in the cosmos. They are extremely powerful, generating as much energy as hundreds of millions of Suns. But they are also extremely short, lasting just milliseconds; and most of them only occur once, without warning.

    This means they can’t be predicted; so it’s not like astronomers are able to plan observations. They are only picked up later in data from other radio observations of the sky.

    Except for one source. FRB 121102 is a special individual – because ever since its discovery in 2012, it has been caught bursting again and again, the only FRB source known to behave this way.

    Because we know FRB 121102 to be a repeating source of FRBs, this means we can try to catch it in the act. This is exactly what researchers at Breakthrough Listen did last year. On 26 August 2017, they pointed the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia at its location for five hours.

    In the 400 terabytes of data from that observation, the researchers discovered 21 FRBs using standard computer algorithms, all from within the first hour. They concluded that the source goes through periods of frenzied activity and quiescence.

    But the powerful new algorithm used to reanalyse that August 26 data suggests that FRB 121102 is a lot more active and possibly complex than originally thought. Researchers trained what is known as a convolutional neural network to look for the signals, then set it loose on the data like a truffle pig.

    It returned triumphant with 72 previously undetected signals, bringing the total number that astronomers have observed from the object to around 300.

    “This work is only the beginning of using these powerful methods to find radio transients,” said astronomer Gerry Zhang of the University of California Berkeley, which runs Breakthrough Listen.

    “We hope our success may inspire other serious endeavours in applying machine learning to radio astronomy.”

    The new result has helped us learn a little more about FRB 121102, putting constraints on the periodicity of the bursts. It suggests that, the researchers said, there’s no pattern to the way we receive them – unless the pattern is shorter than 10 milliseconds.

    See the full article here .

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    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.

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

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



    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

    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.

    We are 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.

     
  • richardmitnick 6:57 am on September 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Breakthrough Listen Project, , , , ,   

    From The Atlantic via WIRED: “China Built the World’s Largest Telescope. Then Came the Tourists” 

    Atlantic Magazine

    The Atlantic Magazine

    via

    Wired logo

    WIRED

    08.26.18
    Sarah Scoles

    Thousands of people moved[?*] to let China build and protect the world’s largest telescope. And then the government drew in orders of magnitude more tourists, potentially undercutting its own science in an attempt to promote it.

    FAST radio telescope, with phase arrays from Australia [https://sciencesprings.wordpress.com/2017/12/18/from-csiroscope-our-top-telescope-tech-travels-fast/] located in the Dawodang depression in Pingtang County, Guizhou Province, south China

    “I hope we go inside this golf ball,” Sabrina Stierwalt joked as she and a group of other radio astronomers approached what did, in fact, appear to be a giant golf ball in the middle of China’s new Pingtang Astronomy Town.

    Stierwalt was a little drunk, a lot full, even more tired. The nighttime scene felt surreal. But then again, even a sober, well-rested person might struggle to make sense of this cosmos-themed, touristy confection of a metropolis.

    On the group’s walk around town that night, they seemed to traverse the ever-expanding universe. Light from a Saturn-shaped lamp crested and receded, its rings locked into support pillars that appeared to make it levitate. Stierwalt stepped onto a sidewalk, and its panels lit up beneath her feet, leaving a trail of lights behind her like the tail of a meteor. Someone had even brought constellations down to Earth, linking together lights in the ground to match the patterns in the sky.

    1
    The tourist town, about 10 miles from the telescope, lights up at night. Credit Intentionally Withheld

    The day before, Stierwalt had traveled from Southern California to Pingtang Astronomy Town for a conference hosted by scientists from the world’s largest telescope. It was a new designation: China’s Five-Hundred-Meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, or FAST, had been completed just a year before, in September 2016. Wandering, tipsy, around this shrine to the stars, the 40 or so other foreign astronomers had come to China to collaborate on the superlative-snatching instrument.

    For now, though, they wouldn’t get to see the telescope itself, nestled in a natural enclosure called a karst depression about 10 miles away. First things first: the golf ball.

    As the group got closer, they saw a red carpet unrolled into the entrance of the giant white orb, guarded by iridescent dragons on an inflatable arch. Inside, they buckled up in rows of molded yellow plastic chairs. The lights dimmed. It was an IMAX movie—a cartoon, with an animated narrator. Not the likeness of a person but … what was it? A soup bowl?

    No, Stierwalt realized. It was a clip-art version of the gargantuan telescope itself. Small cartoon FAST flew around big cartoon FAST, describing the monumental feat of engineering just over yonder: a giant geodesic dome shaped out of 4,450 triangular panels, above which receivers collect radio waves from astronomical objects.

    FAST’s dish, nestled into a depression, is made of thousands of triangular panels. located in the Dawodang depression in Pingtang County, Guizhou Province, south China located in the Dawodang depression in Pingtang County, Guizhou Province, south China VCGGetty Images

    China spent $180 million to create the telescope, which officials have repeatedly said will make the country the global leader in radio astronomy. But the local government also spent several times that on this nearby Astronomy Town—hotels, housing, a vineyard, a museum, a playground, classy restaurants, all those themed light fixtures. The government hopes that promoting their scope in this way will encourage tourists and new residents to gravitate to the historically poor Guizhou province.

    It is, in some sense, an experiment into whether this type of science and economic development can coexist. Which is strange, because normally, they purposefully don’t.

    The point of radio telescopes is to sense radio waves from space—gas clouds, galaxies, quasars. By the time those celestial objects’ emissions reach Earth, they’ve dimmed to near-nothingness, so astronomers build these gigantic dishes to pick up the faint signals. But their size makes them particularly sensitive to all radio waves, including those from cell phones, satellites, radar systems, spark plugs, microwaves, Wi-Fi, short circuits, and basically anything else that uses electricity or communicates. Protection against radio-frequency interference, or RFI, is why scientists put their radio telescopes in remote locations: the mountains of West Virginia, the deserts of Chile, the way-outback of Australia.

    FAST’s site used to be remote like that. The country even forcibly relocated thousands of villagers who lived nearby, so their modern trappings wouldn’t interfere with the new prized instrument.

    But then, paradoxically, the government built—just a few miles from the displaced villagers’ demolished houses—this astronomy town. It also plans to increase the permanent population by hundreds of thousands. That’s a lot of cell phones, each of which persistently emits radio waves with around 1 watt of power.

    By the time certain deep-space emissions reach Earth, their power often comes with 24+ zeroes in front: 0.0000000000000000000000001 watts.

    FAST has been in the making for a long time. In the early 2000s, China angled to host the Square Kilometre Array, a collection of coordinated radio antennas whose dishes would be scattered over thousands of miles. But in 2006, the international SKA committee dismissed China, and then chose to set up its distributed mondo-telescope in South Africa and Australia instead.

    Undeterred, Chinese astronomers set out to build their own powerful instrument.

    In 2007, China’s National Development and Reform Commission allocated $90 million for the project, with $90 million more streaming in from other agencies. Four years later, construction began in one of China’s poorest regions, in the karst hills of the southwestern part of the country. They do things fast in China: The team finished the telescope in just five years. In September 2016, FAST received its “first light,” from a pulsar 1,351 light-years away, during its official opening.

    A year later, Stierwalt and the other visiting scientists arrived in Pingtang, and after an evening of touring Astronomy Town, they got down to business.

    See, FAST’s opening had been more ceremony than science (the commissioning phase is officially scheduled to end by September 2019). It was still far from fully operational—engineers are still trying to perfect, for instance, the motors that push and pull its surface into shape, allowing it to point and focus correctly. And the relatively new crop of radio astronomers running the telescope were hungry for advice about how to run such a massive research instrument.

    The visiting astronomers had worked with telescopes that have contributed to understanding of hydrogen emissions, pulsars, powerful bursts, and distant galaxies. But they weren’t just subject experts: Many were logistical wizards, having worked on multiple instruments and large surveys, and with substantial and dispersed teams. Stierwalt studies interacting dwarf galaxies, and while she’s a staff scientist at Caltech/IPAC, she uses telescopes all over. “Each gives a different piece of the puzzle,” she says. Optical telescopes show the stars. Infrared instruments reveal dust and older stars. X-ray observatories pick out black holes. And single-dish radio telescopes like FAST see the bigger picture: They can map out the gas inside of and surrounding galaxies.

    So at the Radio Astronomy Conference, Stierwalt and the other visitors shared how FAST could benefit from their instruments, and vice versa, and talked about how to run big projects. That work had begun even before the participants arrived. “Prior to the meeting, I traveled extensively all over the world to personally meet with the leaders of previous large surveys,” says Marko Krčo, a research fellow who’s been working for the Chinese Academy of Sciences since the summer of 2016.

    He asked the meeting’s speakers, some of those same leaders, to talk about what had gone wrong in their own surveys, and how the interpersonal end had functioned. “How did you organize yourselves?” he says. “How did you work together? How did you communicate?”

    That kind of feedback would be especially important for FAST to accomplish one of its first, appropriately lofty goals: helping astronomers collect signals from many sides of the universe, all at once. They’d call it the Commensal Radio Astronomy FAST Survey, or CRAFTS.

    3
    Above the dish, engineers have suspended instruments that collect cosmic radio waves. Feature China/Barcroft Media/Getty Images

    Most radio astronomical surveys have a single job: Map gas. Find pulsars. Discover galaxies. They do that by collecting signals in a receiver suspended over the dish of a radio telescope, engineered to capture a certain range of frequencies from the cosmos. Normally, the different astronomer factions don’t use that receiver at the same time, because they each take their data differently. But CRAFTS aims to be the first survey that simultaneously collects data for such a broad spectrum of scientists—without having to pause to reconfigure its single receiver.

    CRAFTS has a receiver that looks for signals from 1.04 gigahertz to 1.45 gigahertz, about 10 times higher than your FM radio. Within that range, as part of CRAFTS, scientists could simultaneously look for gas inside and beyond the galaxy, scan for pulsars, watch for mysterious “fast radio bursts,” make detailed maps, and maybe even search for ET. “That sounds straightforward,” says Stierwalt. “Point the telescope. Collect the data. Mine the data.”

    4
    Engineers from FAST and the Australian science agency install the telescope’s CRAFTS receiver. Marko Krčo

    But it’s not easy. Pulsar astronomers want quicktime samples at a wide range of frequencies; hydrogen studiers, meanwhile, don’t need data chunks as often, but they care deeply about the granular frequency details. On top of that, each group adjusts the observations, calibrating them, kind of like you’d make sure your speedometer reads 45 mph when you’re going 45. And they use different kinds of adjustments.

    When we spoke, Krčo had just returned from a trip to Green Bank, where he was testing whether they could set everyone’s speedometer correctly. “I think it will be one of the big sort of legacies of FAST,” says Krčo. And it’s especially important since the National Science Foundation has recently cratered funding to both Arecibo and Green Bank observatories, the United States’ most significant single-dish radio telescopes.


    NAIC Arecibo Observatory, previously the largest radio telescope in the world operated by University of Central Florida, Yang Enterprises and UMET, Altitude 497 m (1,631 ft)

    Green Bank does have financial support, $2 million per year for five years from Yuri Milner’s Breaktrhough Listen Project.

    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

    While they remain open, they have to seek private project money, meaning chunks of time are no longer available for astronomers’ proposals. Adding hours, on a different continent, helps everybody.

    At the end of the conference in Pingtang County, Krčo and his colleagues presented a concrete plan for CRAFTS, giving all the visitors a chance to approve the proposed design. “Each group could raise any red flags, if necessary, regarding their individual science goals or suggest modifications,” says Krčo.

    In addition to the CRAFTS receiver, Krčo says they’ll add six more, sensitive to different frequencies. Together, they will detect radio waves from 70 megahertz to 3 gigahertz. He says they’ll find thousands of new pulsars (as of July 2018, they had already found more than 40), and do detailed studies of hydrogen inside the galaxy and in the wider universe, among numerous other worthy scientific goals.

    “There’s just a hell of a lot of work to do to get there,” says Krčo. “But we’re doing it.”

    For FAST to fulfill its potential, though, Krčo and his colleagues won’t just have to solve engineering problems: They’ll also have to deal with the problems that engineering created.

    During the four-day Radio Astronomy Forum, Stierwalt and the other astronomers did, finally, get to see the actual telescope, taking a bus up a tight, tortuous road through the karst between town and telescope.

    As soon as they arrived on site, they were instructed to shut down their phones to protect the instrument from the radio frequency interference. But not even these astronomers, who want pristine FAST data for themselves, could resist pressing that capture button. “Our sweet, sweet tour guide continually reminded us to please turn off our phones,” says Stierwalt, “but we all kept taking pictures and sneaking them out because no one really seemed to care.” Come on: It’s the world’s largest telescope.

    Maybe their minder stayed lax because a burst here or there wouldn’t make much of a difference in those early days. The number of regular tourists allowed at the site all day is capped at 3,000, to limit RFI, and they have to put their phones in lockers before they go see the dish. Krčo says the site bumps up against the visitor limit most days.

    But tourism and development are complicated for a sensitive scientific instrument. Within three miles of the telescope, the government passed legislation establishing a “radio-quiet zone,” where RFI-emitting devices are severely restricted. No one (not cellular providers or radio broadcasters) can get a transmitting license, and people entering the facility itself will have their electronics confiscated. “No one lives inside the zone, and the area is not open to the general public,” says Krčo, although some with commercial interests, like local farmers, can enter the zone with special permission. The government relocated villagers who lived within that protected area with promises of repayment in cash, housing, and jobs in tourism and FAST support services. (Though a 2016 report in Agence France-Presse revealed that up to 500 relocated families were suing the Pingtang government, alleging “land grabs without compensation, forced demolitions and unlawful detentions.”)

    The country’s Civil Aviation Administration has also adjusted air travel, setting up two restricted flight zones near the scope, canceling two routes, and adding or adjusting three others. “We can still see some RFI from aircraft navigational beacons,” says Krčo. “It’s much less, though, compared to what it’d look like without the adjusted air routes. It’d be impossible to fully clear a large enough air space to create a completely quiet sky.”

    None of the invisible boundaries, after all, function like force fields. RFI that originates from beyond can pass right on through. At least at the five-star tourist hotel, around 10 miles away, there’s Wi-Fi. The tour center, says an American pulsar astronomer, has a direct line of sight to the telescope.

    When Krčo first arrived on the job, he stayed in the astronomy town. “Every morning, we were counting all the new buildings springing up overnight,” Krčo says. “It would be half a dozen.”

    One day, he woke up to a new five-story structure out his window. Couldn’t be, he thought. But he checked a picture he’d taken the day before, and, sure enough, there had been no building in that spot.

    The corn close to town was covered in construction dust. “I’ve never seen anything like that in my whole life,” says Krčo. Today, though, the corn is gone, covered instead in hotels, museums, and shopping centers.

    5
    Before FAST, few large structures existed in this part of China. Feature China/Barcroft Media/Getty Images

    6
    Now, they abound. Liu Xu/Xinhua/Getty Images

    At a press conference in March 2017, Guizhou’s governor declared that the province would build 10,000 kilometers of new highway by 2020, in addition to completing 17 airports and 4,000 kilometers of high-speed train lines. That’s partly to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of people the province expects to relocate here permanently, as well as the tourists. While just those 3,000 people per day will get to visit the telescope itself, there’s no cap on how many can sojourn in Astronomy Town; the deputy director of Guizhou’s reform and development commission, according to China Daily, said it would be “a main astronomical tourism zone worldwide.” “The town has grown incredibly over the last couple of years due to tourism development,” says Krčo. “This has impacted our RFI environment, but not yet to a point where it is unmanageable.”

    Krčo says that geography protects FAST against much of that human interference. “There are a great many mountains between the telescope and the town,” says Krčo. The land blocks the waves, which you’ve seen yourself if you’ve ever tried to pick up NPR in a canyon. But even though the waves can’t go directly into the telescope, Krčo says the team still sees their echoes, reflections beamed down from the atmosphere.

    “People at the visitors’ center have been using cameras and whatnot, and we can see the RFI from that,” he said last November (enforcement seems to have ramped up since then). “During the daytime,” he adds, “our RFI is much worse than nighttime,” largely due to engineers working onsite (that should improve once commissioning is over). But the tourist traps aren’t run and weren’t developed by FAST staff but by various governmental arms—so FAST, really, has no control over what they do.

    The global radio astronomy community has concerns. “I’m absolutely sure that if people are going to bring their toys, then there’s going to be RFI,” says Carla Beaudet, an RFI engineer at Green Bank Observatory, who spends her career trying to help humans see the radio sky despite themselves. Green Bank itself sits in the middle of a strict radio protection zone with a radius of 10 miles, in which there’s no Wi-Fi or even microwaves.

    There are other ways of dealing with RFI—and Krčo says FAST has a permanent team of engineers dedicated to dealing with interference. One solution, which can pick up the strongest contamination, is a small antenna mounted to one of FAST’s support towers. “The idea is that it will observe the same RFI as the big dish,” says Krčo. “Then, in principle, we can remove the RFI from the data in real time.”

    At other telescopes, astronomers are developing machine-learning algorithms that could identify, extract, and compensate for dirty data. All telescopes, after all, have human contamination, even the ones without malls next door. You can’t stop a communications satellite from passing overhead, or a radar beam from bouncing the wrong way across the mountains. And while you can decide not to build a tourist town in the first place, you probably can’t stop a tidal wave of construction once it’s crested.

    In their free evenings at the Radio Astronomy Forum, Stierwalt and the other astronomers wandered through the development. Across from their luxury hotel, workers were constructing a huge mall. It was just scaffolding then, but sparks flew from tools every night. “So the joke was, ‘I wonder if we’ll be able to go shopping at the mall by the end of our trip,’” says Stierwalt.

    At the end of the conference, Stierwalt rode a bus back to the airport, awed by what she’d seen. The karst hills, dipping and rising out the window, looked like those in Puerto Rico, where she had used the 300-meter Arecibo telescope for weeks at a time during her graduate research.

    When she tried to check in for her flight, she didn’t know where to go, what to do. An agent wrote her passport number down wrong.

    A young Chinese man, an astronomer, saw her struggle and approached her. “I’m on your flight,” he said, “and I’ll make sure you get on it.”

    In line after line, they started talking about other things—life, science. “I was describing the astronomy landscape for me,” she says. Never enough jobs, never enough research money, necessary competition with your friends. “For him, it’s very different.”

    He lives in a country that wants to accrete a community of radio astronomers, not winnow one down. A country that wants to support (and promote) ambitious telescopes, rather than defund the ones it has. China isn’t just trying to build a tourist economy around its telescope—it’s also trying to build a scientific culture around radio astronomy.

    That latter part seems like a safe bet. But the first is still uncertain. So is how the tourist economy will affect—for better or worse—FAST’s scientific payoff. “Much like their CRAFTS survey is trying to make everyone happy—all the different kinds of radio astronomers—this will be a true test of ‘Can you make everyone happy?’” says Stierwalt. “Can you make a prosperous astronomy town right next to a telescope that doesn’t want you to be using your phone or your microwave?”

    Right now, nobody knows. But if the speed of everything else in Guizhou is any indication, we’ll all find out fast.

    [* I had previously read, which I cannot any longer back up, that FAST was built in a fortunately found an empty natural bowl in the land. If anyone can correct me, please do]

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:05 am on October 9, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Breakthrough Listen Project, , , ,   

    From GBO via Charleston Gazette-Mail: “Gordon Gee: Keep listening (Daily Mail)” 

    gbo-logo

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

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    Green Bank Observatory

    1

    Charleston Gazette-Mail

    Oct 5, 2017
    Gordon Gee

    For six decades now, Green Bank Observatory has been helping to fill in the vast blank spaces on our map of the universe through radio astronomy.

    From detecting the first signal of an organic molecule in space to searching for low frequency gravitational waves from pulsars, Green Bank has been an integral part of radio astronomy and astrophysics research and discovery throughout its existence.

    And for 60 years, West Virginians have celebrated this extraordinary facility. During the state’s centennial in 1963, the silhouette of the original 300-foot Green Bank radio telescope graced a special commemorative license plate. During the statehood quarter design competition in 2003, numerous entries featured the Green Bank Telescope.

    Photos of the facility hang in classrooms and libraries across the state. An effort is underway to add Green Bank to UNESCO’s Astronomy and World Heritage Initiative.

    The facility brings the world to West Virginia and we are proud to showcase our cutting-edge scientific equipment as well as our natural beauty. At the height of the Cold War in 1961, Russian scientists came to Green Bank for a symposium. High school students from every state visit Green Bank every summer as part of the National Youth Science Camp.

    Researchers from institutions around the world rely on the radio telescopes at Green Bank for their work. Thousands of visitors each year enjoy the state-of-the-art Science Center.

    And yes, Green Bank has been and remains a leading center for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The search began at Green Bank with Frank Drake and Project Ozma in 1960.

    3
    The 85-foot (26 m) Howard E. Tatel Radio Telescope at NRAO used in the Project Ozma

    Frank Drake

    Drake Equation, Frank Drake, Seti Institute

    [Green Bank Observatory is an integral part of the Breakthrough Listen Project.]

    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

    We are proud of this fact, too, perhaps most of all because of what the search itself represents.

    I think James Gunn, the author of the 1972 science fiction novel The Listeners about radio astronomy and the search for other life in the universe, said it well: “It may be that there is no one out there or if there is someone out there he will never speak to us or we to him, but our listening is an act of faith akin to living itself. If we should stop listening, we would begin dying and we would soon be gone, the world and its people, our technical civilization and even the farmers and peasants, because life is faith, life is commitment. Death is giving up.”

    I have been honored to serve as president of West Virginia University, the state’s flagship, land-grant, research university, on two occasions almost 30 years apart. Based on that experience, I have found West Virginians to be determined, patient, resilient people.

    Perhaps that is why Green Bank resonates so much with us. The monumental task of studying the universe in order to unlock its secrets requires determination, patience, and resilience. Even in the face of technical challenges, mixed signals, and financial setbacks, Green Bank perseveres.

    Residents of West Virginia — a state born from the strife of the Civil War, beset by natural disasters, buffeted by economic downturns — can relate to that. That is why Green Bank is a great symbol for West Virginia.

    As we celebrate this history, the future of Green Bank hangs in the balance. The National Science Foundation is in the midst of decreasing its funding for the facility. As someone immensely proud of Green Bank and its 60 years of scientific research, education, and outreach, I believe we must preserve and expand this essential place and continue its fundamental work.

    Who knows what discoveries the next 60 years may hold? Let us keep listening. We must not give up.

    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 7:32 am on July 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Breakthrough Listen Project, , Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence,   

    From SETI: “The Biography of SETI Pioneer Jill Tarter, Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, is Released” 

    SETI Logo new
    SETI Institute

    July 05 2017

    Rebecca McDonald
    Director of Communications
    Rmcdonald@seti.org
    650-960-4526

    1

    Jill Tarter is the subject of a new book by Sarah Scoles, Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, which was released yesterday. Jill is a pioneer in SETI research and currently holds the Bernard M. Oliver Chair at the SETI Institute. Making Contact is not just for scientists and SETI enthusiasts, but truly is the story of Jill’s life and her life’s work.

    “This is one woman’s view of the roller coaster history of SETI explorations,” said Jill. “Sarah has told it with a fresh voice that makes me grin.”

    In Making Contact, Scoles examines the science behind the work that tries to answer the question, “Are we alone?” Jill was the inspiration for the character of Ellie Arroway in Carl Sagan’s Contact, a role played by Jodie Foster in the film, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this month. Scoles tells Jill’s story, and also begins to wonder how a new generation of SETI research will look.

    “A fictional story about SETI, partly inspired by Tarter, has spurred so many people’s interests in astronomy and life in the universe,” said Scoles. “I hope the nonfictional tale of the actual search and the actual Tarter can do something similar.”

    Scoles suggests that without Jill, SETI programs, including the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array (ATA) and Breakthrough Listen might not exist.

    SETI/Allen Telescope Array situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, 290 miles (470 km) northeast of San Francisco, California, USA

    Breakthrough Listen Project

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    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

    Additionally, funding for SETI research has always been a challenge to obtain. Indeed, the SETI Institute’s own SETI program is funded entirely through private donations and receives no government support. Jill’s ongoing efforts continue to make groundbreaking SETI research possible.

    “Jill is not only a SETI pioneer, and world-class astronomer, her life and work have served as inspiration for an entire new generation of women in science, including many here at the SETI Institute” said Institute CEO, Bill Diamond. “Her toughness, tenacity and perseverance in a male-dominated field of enquiry are fully explored in this captivating biography of a scientist possessed by what is perhaps humankind’s greatest quest – answering that singular question – Are we alone?”

    Jill and Sarah will appear together on July 12 at the Cubberley Community Center in Mountain View, CA to discuss the book and new directions in SETI research. The presentation is part of the SETI Institute’s SETI Talks series and will also feature SETI Institute scientists Eliot Gillum and Seth Shostak. Tickets are available here.

    See the full article here .
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  • richardmitnick 4:51 pm on May 26, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Breakthrough Listen Project, , , , Dr. Greg Matloff, Near-term interstellar probe   

    From Centauri Dreams: “Near-Term Interstellar Probes: Some Gentle Suggestions” 

    Centauri Dreams

    May 26, 2017
    Paul Gilster

    When Greg Matloff’s “Solar Sail Starships: Clipper Ships of the Galaxy” appeared in JBIS in 1981, the science fictional treatments of interstellar sails I had been reading suddenly took on scientific plausibility. Later, I would read Robert Forward’s work, and realize that an interstellar community was growing in space agencies, universities and the pages of journals. Since those days, Matloff’s contributions to the field have kept coming at a prodigious rate, with valuable papers and books exploring not only how we might reach the stars but what we can do in our own Solar System to ensure a bright future for humanity. In today’s essay, Greg looks at interstellar propulsion candidates and ponders the context provided by Breakthrough Starshot, which envisions small sailcraft moving at 20 percent of the speed of light, bound for Proxima Centauri. What can we learn from the effort, and what alternatives should we consider as we ponder the conundrum of interstellar propulsion?

    Dr. Greg Matloff
    Marc Millis, Paul Gilster and their associates of the Tau Zero Foundation are to be congratulated on the recent award of a $500,000 NASA grant to investigate the prospects for a near-term interstellar probe. As one of the co-authors of The Starlight Handbook, the author of Deep-Space Probes and many interstellar related papers, a former NASA consultant in this field and an Advisor to Project Starshot, I would like to offer some gentle and very personal suggestions about how to best spend this money. Since it is unlikely that I can attend this year’s Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop, I have elected to submit these concepts to Centauri Dreams.

    Motivation

    The basic reason for an early interstellar endeavor is knowledge acquisition. Data acquired by a star-probe en route to its destination includes in situ measurements of the interstellar medium including ions, neutral atoms, dust grains and cosmic rays. Of particular interest to designers of eventual human-carrying star arks is measurements of the directionality of high-Z cosmic rays. If these originate from discrete sources in and beyond our galaxy rather than being omni-directional, the problem of shielding a space ark will be more readily solved.

    Another possible function of such a probe is extra-galactic astrometry. If the probe carries a telescope, the very-long baseline observations possible when pairing with solar-system instruments during interstellar cruise should yield valuable data regarding distances and kinematics of extra-galactic objects.

    During the interstellar transfer after the probe’s distance from the Sun exceeds 550 AU, the Sun’s Gravitational Focus can be applied to obtain greatly amplified images of astrophysical objects occulted by the Sun. Trajectory deviations farther along the probe’s interstellar track might indicate the presence of elusive dark matter.

    Upon arrival in the destination planetary system, investigation of planets within the target star’s habitable zone will be the highest priority. Does life evolve on any water-rich world within the liquid-water temperature range, if that world has an atmosphere? Or are special conditions such as a massive satellite a requisite?

    If living planets are commonplace, do technology and civilization naturally evolve? Because we have received no unambiguous signals from hypothetical advanced extraterrestrial civilizations and intelligent ETs are apparently rare or non-existent in our solar system, our early interstellar robots should be configured to investigate the “Eerie Silence” (as Paul Davies has dubbed it) and Fermi’s Paradox (“where is everybody?”). Do advanced ETs perhaps evolve in a non-technological direction, or do they generally self-destruct? Or do they generally elect to remain radio silent and not engage in interstellar exploration and colonization?

    Destination

    I will next consider the probable destination for a probe that we might conceivably launch in the 2050-2100 time frame. Our early probes should almost certainly be directed towards the nearest stars—the Proxima/Alpha Centauri triple star system.

    Centauris Alpha Beta Proxima 27, February 2012. Skatebiker

    This system, which is estimated to be about 6 billion years old, consists of two central Sun-like stars (Alpha A and Alpha B) and a red dwarf companion (Proxima). Alpha A and B orbit their common center of mass in an elliptical orbit with a period of about 80 years. At their closest (periapsis), Alpha A and Alpha B are separated by about 9 Astronomical Units. At their farthest (apoapsis), their separation is in excess of 30 AU. Each of the central Centauri suns could have planets orbiting within their habitable zones. Alpha A/B Centauri is about 4.27 light years from the Sun.

    Proxima Centauri is a bit closer at 4.24 light years from the Sun. It is quite possible (but not definite) that this star is gravitationally bound to the Alpha A/B even though its current separation from Alpha A/B is about 15,000 Astronomical Units.. During the summer of 2016, the discovery of a planet with a probable mass 30% greater than Earth orbiting Proxima Centauri within that star’s habitable zone was announced. A less-than-poetic designation for this planet is Proxima b Centauri.

    Although several research teams are investigating the possibility of habitable worlds attending Alpha A or Alpha B Centauri, the discovery of Proxima b was totally unexpected. Since the nearest star to the Sun has a probable planet orbiting within its habitable zone, it is reasonable to conclude that such worlds are very common in our galaxy.

    Achievable Interstellar Transit Duration

    Our early extrasolar probes— Pioneer 10/11, Voyager 1/2, and New Horizons— don’t really count as starships.

    NASA Pioneer 10

    NASA/Voyager 1

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    Yes, they have left or will eventually leave our solar system and move freely through the Milky Way galaxy. But their propulsion systems—chemical rockets combined with giant-planet gravity assists are not effective enough for true star voyaging. Even the fastest of these would require about 70,000 years to reach Proxima/Alpha Centauri if it happened to be pointing in the right direction (which it isn’t).

    A human colony ship, often called an interstellar ark or world ship, could probably be designed using near-term technology such that it could survive a millennial journey to our nearest stellar neighbor. But such a long travel time for a robotic probe would be difficult to sell to the scientific community since most research participants would prefer to see some results within their lifetimes.

    So the Breakthrough Initiatives project Breakthrough Starshot pushes technology to its limits on numerous fronts in order to design a starcraft capable of traversing the enormous distance between the Sun and Proxima/Alpha Centauri in about 20 years.

    Everything about Starshot is enormously challenging. A hyperthin sail with dimensions up to a few meters on a side must be generated.

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    Image: Artist’s concept of the Breakthrough Starshot sail under beamed acceleration. Credit: Breakthrough Initiatives.

    It must have near perfect reflectivity, high emissivity, low areal mass thickness and very high melting point. This is necessary for it to survive a several minute exposure to a 50-100 GW laser beam without melting. By the way, it must also have enormous tensile strength in order to support the nano-payload during the acceleration process. The sail must also be configured to maintain stability within the beam.

    The laser array would likely be mounted atop a Southern Hemisphere mountain, in order to point at Alpha Centauri. Adaptive optics must be used not only to compensate for the effects of Earth’s atmosphere but to insure that the beam completely fills the sail during the acceleration process at distances measured in millions of kilometers. Also, since a single continuous wave 50-100 GW laser is somewhat beyond current capabilities, thousands of smaller lasers must be synced together to produce the beam.

    Assuming that the sail survives the acceleration process, it must possess ample on-board intelligence to perform several tasks independent of Mission Control. First, it should reorient itself to travel edge-on rather than broadside through interstellar space. This is necessary to reduce the effects of dust grain impacts. Although interstellar dust is rare in our galactic vicinity, even a single grain moving at 0.2c (60,000 kilometers per second) relative to the sail has an enormous wallop.

    But we’re not done yet. Approaching Proxima/Alpha Centauri, the sail must reorient itself once again to allow its instrument suite to survey the environment of the destination stars and to send the results towards Earth. A very tall order indeed for a ~gram-massed nano payload.

    None of the above challenges present physical impossibilities. The question is whether they can all be achieved in a single nano-spacecraft within the next few decades.

    So any NASA-funded interstellar initiative intended for possible implementation within the next few decades should not attempt to duplicate the goals of Project Starshot. Rather than a 20-year travel duration, a 100-year flight time might be more realizable in the near term. Mission planners need to realize that even this is quite a challenge. A 100-200 year travel duration might be a reasonable goal.

    Proposed Propulsion Systems

    Many propulsion systems have been proposed to enable interstellar exploration and colonization. Only a few have any hope of being feasible in the near term. Before we get to the near-term possibilities, it might be nice to review some of the more exotic suggestions.

    Space Warps, Wormholes, and Hyperdrives

    It would indeed be lovely if one of these devices emerged from the realms of science fiction and Hollywood special effects into the real world. Then we could wander the star lanes with the same dispatch that we book a flight to Europe.

    Unfortunately, all of these short-cuts through space-time require either enormous amounts of energy, exotic forms of matter or new physics. It seems wise to continue research in these possibilities. There is no telling when or if a breakthrough might occur. But it would be unwise to hold our collective breaths.

    Thrust Machines

    In the 1960’s, we were treated to the famous Dean Drive. Now engineers in several international locations are testing the Shawyer EM Drive. These and similar devices apparently violate one of the basic laws of classical mechanics: Conservation of Linear Momentum. Although excess unidirectional thrust seems to be generated by the EM Drive, Marc Millis has described in this blog numerous possible causes for this effect that do not violate this law.

    Before any proposed thrust machine can be seriously considered for application to interplanetary or interstellar propulsion, it must demonstrate excess thrust in outer space conditions. Two venues for preliminary in-space tests are stratospheric balloons and sub-orbital rockets. If these succeed, a follow-on demonstration would be a dedicated cubesat containing the device deployed in Low Earth Orbit.

    The Matter/Antimatter Rocket

    This physically possible interstellar propulsion system utilizes total conversion of matter to energy in the reaction between matter and antimatter. Sadly, we are a very long way from the capability of creating the necessary mass of antimatter in a reasonable time frame. If we applied humanity’s best antimatter factory (the Large Hadron Collider) to the the task of full-time antimatter production, we might have a gram of the stuff after 100 million years.

    Another problem is storing the antimatter. Charged sub-atomic particles can be stored in Penning Traps for periods of weeks. These devices use crossed electric and magnetic fields to contain the particles. If applied in space travel, how would the trap’s fields compensate for variable spacecraft acceleration? Also, might stray cosmic rays heat and divert the anti-ions so that they explosively interact with the walls of the containment vessel?

    Perhaps it’s a good thing that application matter-antimatter technology does not seem a near-term possibility. Our security would be jeopardized enormously (and probably terminally) if terrorists could smuggle city-killing weapons in thimble-sized containers.

    Ramjets and EM Sails

    By far the most elegant of physically possible interstellar spacecraft is Robert Bussard’s fusion ramjet. This craft utilizes an electromagnetic (EM) scoop to collect interstellar hydrogen over a large area and redirect the plasma to a proton-proton fusion reactor. Energized fusion products (helium nuclei) are exhausted out the rear of the craft. An ideal ramjet, accelerating at 1g could reach near-optic velocities in about a year Earth time. Because of relativistic effects, the craft could cross the galaxy within the crew’s lifetime, according to on-board clocks.

    Sadly, there are a few problems with the proton-fusing ramjet. First and most significant is the difficulty of igniting the proton-proton thermonuclear reaction. This reaction, which powers main sequence stars such as our Sun, is many orders of magnitude more difficult to ignite than the fusion reactions we currently experiment with. One way around this is to consider lower performance ramjet alternatives such as the ram-augmented interstellar rocket (RAIR) that carries on-board fusion fuel and uses scooped protons as additional reaction mass.

    But even that approach is limited by the limitations of EM scoops that have been suggested to date. Most (including those considered by this author) function better as proton reflectors or drag sails—very good for interstellar deceleration but not too effective for achieving high velocities. The one exception to this is Brice Cassenti’s toroidal scoop, suggested in the late 1990’s. But because this scoop utilizes an array of superconducting wires projected in front of the spacecraft, only accelerations of the order 0.01 g are possible.

    In the near future, the best we can likely hope for to apply ramjet technology is in-space experiments using electric and magnetic sails to reflect the solar wind. This might encourage the perfection of both an interplanetary propulsion option requiring no on-board fuel and experimental tests of an approach to interstellar deceleration.

    Beamed Propulsion

    It is unclear whether Project Starshot’s imaginative enterprise will be successful. Even if a beam projector is located on a high mountain, it is not known how rapidly it can be adjusted to compensate for atmospheric turbulence. Another unknown is whether the beam-steering mechanism will be efficient enough to keep the beam output directed at Alpha/Proxima Centauri for several minutes. Finally, much analysis is required to insure that the beam is centered on the sail and fills the sail during the acceleration process.

    Any funded consideration of interstellar probes would be wise, however, to investigate terrestrial and in-space experiments to demonstrate the utility of beamed propulsion. These could be far less ambitious and expensive than the Project Starshot concepts.

    For example, imagine two cubesats launched simultaneously into Low Earth Orbit. One contains a wafer sail. Its neighbor deploys a very low-power laser or maser projector. The beam is focused on the unfurled sail. It should be possible to monitor both sail acceleration and stability in the beam.

    Another possibility is to repeat an experiment originally planned for the failed Planetary Society Cosmos-1 Earth-orbiting solar-photon sail. After the sail is unfurled, a microwave beam from a terrestrial radio telescope could be focused on the sail. If sail stability and acceleration can be demonstrated, this will advance the possibility of Earth-escape by low-orbit photon sails as well as furthering the cause of interstellar travel.

    Theoretical researchers might also expand the concept of particle-beam propulsion. Because electrically charged sub-atomic particles carry significantly more linear momentum than photons, it would be interesting to develop an understanding of particle-beam collimation over interplanetary and interstellar distances.

    But there is a geopolitical obstacle to the construction of a ~gigawatt laser-, maser-, or particle-beam projector in space. Such a device could be applied to accelerating a starship or diverting an Earth-threatening asteroid; it could also be construed as a weapon.

    If such an enormous beam projector could be constructed in space and could maintain its aim for decades, a hybrid interstellar propulsion system might ultimately become feasible. This is the laser ramjet. In such a vehicle, interstellar ions collected by a Cassenti EM scoop could be accelerated by energy beamed from the solar system.

    Fission-Electric Propulsion

    Nuclear fission has been an available energy source for more than 70 years. The solar-electric rocket (or ion drive) has been used successfully on several interplanetary probes. One reasonable approach to interstellar travel is to remove the solar panels and connect the ion drive’s thruster to a nuclear-fission reactor. In such a device, the reactor energy output would ionize propellant atoms (or molecules) and accelerate the resulting ions out the rear of the spacecraft.

    There are at least three factors limiting interstellar application of fission-electric propulsion. One is propellant availability. To reduce thruster erosion, the inert gas xenon is used as propellant in most current solar-electric drives. Applying this approach to the much more massive fuel requirement of an interstellar probe would likely far exceed the annual terrestrial production rate of xenon. Alternative propellants should be investigated.

    Then there is the matter of geopolitics. Many citizens of our planet would be somewhat unnerved if one of the major space powers began to store the large amount of fissionable material required in Low Earth Orbit during construction of the massive probe. One way around this is to construct the probe as an international project, similar to that applied to creation and operation of the International Space Station.

    Technology is another limitation. Present day ion thrusters are limited to exhaust velocities of about 100 kilometers per second. So a nuclear-electric rocket launched using current technology might require 10,000 years to reach Alpha/Proxima Centauri.

    Exhaust velocity must be raised to at least 1000 kilometers/second to propel a “1000-year ark”, as discussed by Les Shepherd in his 1952-vintage JBIS paper on interstellar travel. To reduce probe flight time to 100 years or so, the ion-exhaust velocity must be increased by another order of magnitude.

    Another required improvement to implement ion-propelled interstellar travel is the reduction of the propulsion system’s specific mass (kilograms/kilowatts). As my late friend, the UK propulsion expert Dr. David Fearn once told me, such a reduction is challenging but ultimately not impossible.

    Thermonuclear Fusion Rockets

    There are two major types of fusion under development. Magnetic fusion, which confines the reacting plasma in EM fields, seems to always be a few decades in the future. Some have quipped that it is the energy source and the propulsion system of the future and always will be.

    Small scale inertial fusion confines and compresses micropellets using crossed electron or laser beams. Large scale inertial fusion—the hydrogen bomb—accomplishes confinement and heating reactants using fission charges, and has of course been operational for more than 60 years.

    Large scale inertial-fusion propulsion was first investigated during the early space age by NASA and the US Department of Defense in the original Project Orion. The first demonstration in a scientific journal of the near-term feasibility of large-scale interstellar travel was Freeman Dyson’s original paper on an interstellar Orion in the October 1968 issue of Physics Today. Assuming propulsion by exploding hydrogen bombs, Dyson demonstrated that the US and USSR Cold War nuclear arsenals were sufficient to dispatch thousands of migrants on colonization ships. The estimated duration of one-way voyages to Alpha/Proxima Centauri was 130-1,300 years.

    In an ideal world, the former Cold War adversaries would be glad to donate their now-obsolete thermonuclear arsenals to the worthy cause of promoting an interstellar diaspora. Sadly, we do not live in such a world.

    Even if nuclear “devices” would be donated to the worthy cause of interstellar exploration/colonization, there are a few technical difficulties to contend with. Unless we can master aneutronic fusion reactions such as the boron-proton scheme, it must be demonstrated that spacecraft structures can survive periodic high-energy thermal-neutron doses.

    Application of fusion micro pellets also has a number of technical issues. First, there is the problem of fuel availability. To reduce neutron irradiation on ship structures, the Daedalus study of the British Interplanetary Society (BIS) considered a Deuterium-Helium3 fusion fuel cycle. The problem is that Helium3 is very rare on Earth. To construct a Daedalus craft, cosmic helium sources must be tapped—perhaps the lunar regolith, atmospheres of giant planets or the solar wind.

    The BIS follow-up to Daedalus, called Icarus, uses a Deuterium-Tritium fuel cycle. Here, it might be necessary to breed Tritium in nuclear fission reactors.

    Some engineering issues must be addressed before Daedalus/Icarus-type pulsed fusion ships can become operational. What are the acoustic effects of repeated fusion ignitions within the reaction chamber? Will the walls of the reaction chamber be damaged if laser- or electron-beams miss a fuel pellet?

    Another significant issue is the enormous size of inertial fusion ships. Even if payload mass can be drastically reduced, the beam projectors, reaction chamber and associated gear are massive.

    One suggestion to reduce the mass of an inertial-fusion propelled spacecraft is worthy of future study. That is Johndale Solem’s Medusa concept. In Medusa, the massive reaction chamber is replaced by a hyper-thin, high-melting-point, radiation-tolerant sail. Fusion charges are ignited within this flexible canopy, which is connected to the payload by strong cables.

    The Solar-Photon Sail

    There are several reasons why photon sails have emerged as the near-term interstellar propulsion system of choice. First, small photon sails have been unfurled and operated in Earth orbit and interplanetary space.

    Second, the photon sail can be scaled with the payload. A payload-on-a-chip requires a small sail. If the payload is small enough, sail and payload can be deployed from a small cubesat. Sail deployment and integration with payload can therefore be based upon current operational experience.

    But today’s multi-layer solar-photon sails are not really capable of interstellar travel. Even if sail acceleration is combined with giant-planet gravity assists, it seems clear that Alpha/Proxima Centauri travel times less than 10,000 years will be difficult to achieve.

    The best we can expect from current solar-photon sails is exploration of the heliopause at around 550 AU, the Sun’s gravity focus at >550 AU, and the inner reaches of the Sun’s Oort Comet Cloud.

    In all likelihood, interstellar probes launched by solar-photon sails will never be as fast as those launched by laser-photon or maser-photon sails. The reason for this is that solar irradiance is an inverse square phenomenon—acceleration at Jupiter is 1/25 that at Earth’s solar orbit. A collimated and accurately aimed beam could maintain sail acceleration over much greater distances.

    But the advantage of solar-photon over beam-photon sails is that mission designers need not concern themselves with the beam-projection system. The solar constant should not vary too much for the foreseeable future.

    So a number of researchers have evaluated the possibility of all-metal sails, dielectric sails, carbon nanotube sails and mesh sails. But the ultimate sail material might be a molecular monolayer such as graphene.

    Graphene is a hyper-strong layer of carbon, one molecule thick. Its melting point is in excess of 4,000 K and it is impermeable to many gases. In the visible spectral range, graphene is essentially transparent. Its fractional visible absorption is 0.023. As I describe in a 2012 JBIS paper, combination with other materials can increase reflectivity to about 0.05 and absorption to ~0.4. Graphene sails carrying robotic payloads and unfurled near the Sun seem capable of reaching Alpha/Proxima Centauri in a few centuries. Because human-carrying arks are limited to ~3g accelerations, these larger ships require about 1,000 years to reach these stars if they are propelled by graphene sails.

    But here is where Project Starshot can play a very major role. In order to reach ~0.2c in a ~50 GW laser beam without melting, the sail reflectivity to laser light must be very high. Perhaps this can be achieved with an appropriate mesh-like meta material. Or perhaps the reflectivity of molecular monolayers such as graphene can be greatly increased.

    After the Project Starshot workshop last August, participants produced draft Requests For Proposals (RFPs). I have discussed the possibility of increasing graphene reflectivity with theoretical condensed-matter researchers at my home institution (CUNY). It is quite possible that they will submit a proposal in response to the RFP when it is issued.

    If monolayer reflectivity can be greatly increased, it will be necessary to demonstrate that this action does not adversely affect monolayer tensile strength so that the wafer sail is strong enough to support the payload during a very close solar approach. It will also be necessary to demonstrate that sail and payload can survive the very hostile environment encountered near the Sun.

    A solar-photon sail will likely never achieve the ~0.2c interstellar velocity of the laser-boosted Project Starshot sail. But, just possibly, solar-photon-sail terminal velocities capable of making the journey to Alpha/Proxima Centauri in a century or so may not be totally infeasible.

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    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 3:18 pm on April 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Breakthrough Listen Project, ,   

    From Universe Today: “Breakthrough Listen Publishes First Analysis Of 692 Stars In ET Search” 

    universe-today

    Universe Today

    27 Apr , 2017
    Matt Williams

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    Breakthrough Listen will monitor the 1 million closest stars to Earth over a ten year period. Credit: Breakthrough Initiatives

    In July of 2015, Breakthrough Initiatives – a non-profit dedicated to the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, founded by Yuri Milner – announced the creation of Breakthrough Listen. A ten-year initiative costing $100 million, this program was aimed at using the latest in instrumentation and software to conduct the largest survey to date for extraterrestrial communications, encompassing the 1,000,000 closest stars and 100 closest galaxies.

    On Thursday, April. 20th, at the Breakthrough Discuss conference, the organization shared their analysis of the first year of Listen data. Gathered by the Green Bank Radio Telescope, this data included an analysis of 692 stars, as well as 11 events that have been ranked for having the highest significance. The results have been published on the project’s website, and will soon be published in the Astrophysical Journal.

    Since 2016, Breakthrough Listen has been gathering data with the Green Bank Radio Telescope in West Virginia, the Lick Observatory’s Automated Planet Finder on Mt. Hamilton in California, and the Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia. This data is analyzed by the Listen science team at the Berkeley SETI Research Center (BSRC), who rely on a specially-designed data pipeline to scan through billions of radio channels for any sign of unique signals.

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    The Green Bank Telescope (GBT), a radio telescope located at the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia. Credit: greenbankobservatory.org

    While the results were not exactly definitive, this is just the first step in a program that will span a decade. As Dr. Andrew Siemion, the Director of the BSRC, explained in a BI press release:

    “With the submission of this paper, the first scientific results from Breakthrough Listen are now available for the world to review. Although the search has not yet detected a convincing signal from extraterrestrial intelligence, these are early days. The work that has been completed so far provides a launch pad for deeper and more comprehensive analysis to come.”

    The Green Bank Telescope searched for these signals using its “L-band” receiver, which gathers data in frequencies ranging from 1.1 to 1.9 GHz. At these frequencies, artificial signals can be distinguished from natural sources, which includes pulsars, quasars, radio galaxies and even the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). Within these parameters, the BSRC team examined 692 stars from its primary target list.

    For each star, they conducting three five-minutes observation periods, while also conducting five-minute observations on a set of secondary targets. Combined with a Doppler drift search – a perceived difference in frequency caused by the motion of the source or receiver (i.e. the star and/or Earth) – the Listen science team identified channels where radio emission were seen for each target (aka. “hits”).

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    The Parkes radio telescope, one of the telescopes comprising CSIRO’s Australia Telescope National Facility. Credit: CSIRO/David McClenaghan

    This led to a combined 400 hours and 8 petabytes worth of observational data. All together, the team found millions of hits from the sample data as a whole, and eleven events that rose above the threshold for significance. These events (which are listed here) took place around eleven distant stars and ranged from to 25.4 to 3376.9 SNR (Signal-to-Noise Ratio).

    However, the vast majority of the overall hits were determined to be the result of radio frequency interference from local sources. What’s more, further analysis of the 11 events indicated that it was unlikely that any of the signals were artificial in nature. While these stars all exhibited their own unique radio “fingerprints”, this is not necessarily an indication that they are being broadcast by intelligent species.

    But of course, finding localized and unusual radio signals is an excellent way to select targets for follow-up examination. And if there is evidence to be found out there of intelligent species using radio signals to communicate, Breakthrough Listen is likely to be the one that finds them. Of all the SETI programs mounted to date, Listen is by far the most sophisticated.

    Not only do its radio surveys cover 10 times more sky than previous programs, but its instruments are 50 times more sensitive than telescopes that are currently engaged in the search for extra-terrestrial life. They also cover 5 times more of the radio spectrum, and at speeds that are 100 times as fast. Between now and when it concludes in the coming decade, the BSRC team plans to release updated Listen data once every six months.

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    The Automated Planet Finder (APF) is the newest telescope at UC’s Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton. (Photo by Laurie Hatch)

    In the meantime, they are actively engaging with signal processing and machine learning experts to develop more sophisticated algorithms to analyze the data they collect. And while they continue to listen for extra-solar sources of life, Breakthrough Starshot continues to develop the first concept for a laser-driven lightsail, which they hope will make the first interstellar voyage in the coming years.

    And of course, we here in the Solar System are looking forward to missions in the coming decade that will search for life right here, in our own backyard. These include missions to Europa, Enceladus, Titan, and other “ocean worlds” where life is believed to exist in some exotic form!

    Breakthrough Listen‘s data analysis can be found here. Director Andrew Siemion also took to Facebook Live on Thursday, April 20th, to presents the results of Listen’s first year of study.And be sure to check out this video that marked the launch of Breakthrough Initiatives:

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 4:32 pm on April 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Breakthrough Listen Project, , National radio quiet zone,   

    From GBO via Science Friday: “Searching For E.T. In An Electronic Dead Zone” 

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

    gbo-sign

    Green Bank Observatory

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    Science Friday on NPR

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    There are no filters added to this photo of the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. It was taken on a real-film disposable camera. Credit: Charles Bergquist

    The hills of Green Bank, West Virginia are tranquil and serene. But peeking out of a shallow valley is something quite unnatural—the huge ivory dish of the Green Bank Telescope (also referred to as GBT, or the “Great Big Thing” by locals). It is the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world, with a huge ear that can listen to 85 percent of the sky.

    The massive dish is like a basin, but instead of water it collects radio signals from space. Astronomical signals can be incredibly weak (the telescope often measures signals on the order of 10-29 Watts/m2/Hertz, or milli-Janskies). In order to be able to pick those distant transmissions out of Earthly electronic noise, the observatory must sit in radio silence.

    [Frank Drake is still searching for E.T.]

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    In this view of GBT, you can see the elaborate lattice structure on the back of the scope which distributes forces across the entire dish. Credit: Charles Bergquist

    Green Bank Observatory lies within the national radio quiet zone—a 13,000 square mile region of Virginia and West Virginia that is protected from radio frequency interference. “Within that region anyone that puts a fixed license antenna has to talk to us,” Karen O’Neill, Green Bank site director, explained in a video. The observatory helps locals within the zone design special cell towers and antenna that don’t disrupt the observatory’s research.

    “The energy given off by a single snowflake hitting the ground is much more powerful than the radio signal an astronomer is trying to receive,” says Michael Holstine, an engineer and business manager at Green Bank. “Any manmade transmitter, electronic device, unintentional transmitter basically overwhelms the usable signal for the observer.”

    Past a certain point on the Green Bank Observatory campus, you must abandon all of your precious electronics. There can be no radio signals emitted from your cell phone, microwave heating up dinner, or digital camera—so when SciFri visited the sanctuary in February, photos had to be snapped on a low-tech, real-film disposable camera. The result were these blue-tinted, looming views of GBT. Sleet and cobalt clouds cast a gloomy grey over the usually gleaming white reflector surface of the telescope.

    What happens if we detect extraterrestrial intelligence?

    It’s easy to feel minuscule beneath the towering latticed structure. The GBT stands taller than the Statue of Liberty at 485 feet and can fit an entire football field in its 2.3-acre reflector. Its tremendous size is needed to collect those faint signals in space.

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    Peering up at GBT from the grounds of the observatory. Credit: Charles Bergquist

    The telescope is used to monitor pulsars, find gravitational waves, view comets, and map diffuse clouds of gas. GBT has been involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) since the 1960s, and now is currently working on the Breakthrough Listen project, an intensive search for extraterrestrial intelligence, spending hundreds of hours per year searching for potential signs of intelligent life.

    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 3:13 pm on March 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Breakthrough Listen Project, Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute, , , ,   

    From SETI Institute: “2016: A Year of Discovery at the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute” And, Much Much More 

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    2017 is well underway, building from all that was learned in 2016. The work of the Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute is detailed in 2016: Publications and Presentations of the SETI Institute, which can be downloaded here.

    Every day the scientific research that goes on at the SETI Institute tries to answer fundamental questions: How many planets exist that might support life? What is required for life to exist? How does life start? How does it evolve? In short, where did we come from and are we alone?

    Our team focuses on disciplines including space and planetary exploration, analogs, and observing and modeling the precursors of life in the depths of outer space. Each Carl Sagan Center research project is related to understanding the origins of life or the extent to which life may be present beyond Earth. Publications during 2016 were extensive and included Nature and Science as well as the Astronomical Journal, Astrobiology, Applied Physics, Journal of Chemical Physics, Icarus, Proceedings of the Royal Society, Aeolian Research and more.

    Sharing learning with the wider world is part of the mission of the SETI Institute. SETI Institute researchers speak at dozens of engagements each year, as well as write stories and be interviewed in the popular media. The breadth and depth of the science, combined with the impact and reach of our education programs help tell the whole story.

    2017 is shaping up to be just as exciting. Join us on our journey of exploration and discovery. Sign up for our e-news for the latest updates and information.

    See the full article here .

    OTHER WAYS TO HELP IN THE SEARCH FOR EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIFE

    SETI@home
    SETI@home

    The science of SETI@home
    SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is a scientific area whose goal is to detect intelligent life outside Earth. One approach, known as radio SETI, uses radio telescopes to listen for narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space. Such signals are not known to occur naturally, so a detection would provide evidence of extraterrestrial technology.

    Radio telescope signals consist primarily of noise (from celestial sources and the receiver’s electronics) and man-made signals such as TV stations, radar, and satellites. Modern radio SETI projects analyze the data digitally. More computing power enables searches to cover greater frequency ranges with more sensitivity. Radio SETI, therefore, has an insatiable appetite for computing power.

    Previous radio SETI projects have used special-purpose supercomputers, located at the telescope, to do the bulk of the data analysis. In 1995, David Gedye proposed doing radio SETI using a virtual supercomputer composed of large numbers of Internet-connected computers, and he organized the SETI@home project to explore this idea. SETI@home was originally launched in May 1999.

    SETI@home is not a part of the SETI Institute

    The SETi@home screensaver image
    SETI@home screensaver

    To participate in this project, download and install the BOINC software on which it runs. Then attach to the project. While you are at BOINC, look at some of the other projects which you might find of interest.

    Breakthrough Listen Project

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    About
    We are here.
    Circling one star among hundreds of billions, in one galaxy among a hundred billion more, in a Universe that is vast and expanding ever faster – perhaps toward infinity. In the granular details of daily life, it’s easy to forget that we live in a place of astonishing grandeur and mystery.
    The Breakthrough Initiatives are a program of scientific and technological exploration, probing the big questions of life in the Universe: Are we alone? Are there habitable worlds in our galactic neighborhood? Can we make the great leap to the stars? And can we think and act together – as one world in the cosmos?

    Where is everybody?
    So wondered the great physicist Enrico Fermi. The Universe is ancient and immense. Life, he reasoned, has had plenty of time to get started – and get smart. But we see no evidence of anything alive or intelligent in space. In the last five years, we have discovered that planets in the habitable zone of stars are common. Based on the numbers discovered so far, there are estimated to be billions more in our galaxy alone. Yet we are still in the dark about life. Are we really alone? Or are there others out there?
    It’s one of the biggest questions. And only science can answer it.
    Breakthrough Listen is a $100 million program of astronomical observations in search of evidence of intelligent life beyond Earth. It is by far the most comprehensive, intensive and sensitive search ever undertaken for artificial radio and optical signals. A complete survey of the 1,000,000 nearest stars, the plane and center of our galaxy, and the 100 nearest galaxies. All data will be open to the public.
    Breakthrough Message is a $1 million competition to design a message representing Earth, life and humanity that could potentially be understood by another civilization. The aim is to encourage humanity to think together as one world, and to spark public debate about the ethics of sending messages beyond Earth.

    Can we reach the stars?
    Life in the Universe does not only mean extraterrestrials. It also means us. No other beings have yet visited us – but neither have we stepped out to the galactic stage. Are we destined to belong to Earth forever? Or can we reach the stars?
    If we can, the natural first step is our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri – four light years away.
    Breakthrough Starshot is a $100 million research and engineering program aiming to demonstrate proof of concept for a new technology, enabling ultra-light unmanned space flight at 20% of the speed of light; and to lay the foundations for a flyby mission to Alpha Centauri within a generation.

    The Breakthrough Initiatives were founded in 2015 by Yuri and Julia Milner to explore the Universe, seek scientific evidence of life beyond Earth, and encourage public debate from a planetary perspective.

    Breakthrough Listen is currently operating on three telescopes

    Green Bank Radio Telescope


    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

    Green Bank is currently funded by the National Science Foundation. But those funds are now threatened for the future. Please visit GBO, and see how you can help.

    Parkes Radio Telescope


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


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

    Lick has faced a funding crises created by the University of California. Please visit Friends of Lick to see how you can help.

    Search for extraterrestrial intelligence expands at Lick Observatory
    New instrument scans the sky for pulses of infrared light
    March 23, 2015
    By Hilary Lebow

    1
    The NIROSETI instrument saw first light on the Nickel 1-meter Telescope at Lick Observatory on March 15, 2015. (Photo by Laurie Hatch)

    Astronomers are expanding the search for extraterrestrial intelligence into a new realm with detectors tuned to infrared light at UC’s Lick Observatory. A new instrument, called NIROSETI, will soon scour the sky for messages from other worlds.

    “Infrared light would be an excellent means of interstellar communication,” said Shelley Wright, an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego who led the development of the new instrument while at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics.

    Wright worked on an earlier SETI project at Lick Observatory as a UC Santa Cruz undergraduate, when she built an optical instrument designed by UC Berkeley researchers. The infrared project takes advantage of new technology not available for that first optical search.

    Infrared light would be a good way for extraterrestrials to get our attention here on Earth, since pulses from a powerful infrared laser could outshine a star, if only for a billionth of a second. Interstellar gas and dust is almost transparent to near infrared, so these signals can be seen from great distances. It also takes less energy to send information using infrared signals than with visible light.

    5
    UCSC alumna Shelley Wright, now an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego, discusses the dichroic filter of the NIROSETI instrument. (Photo by Laurie Hatch)

    Frank Drake, professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and director emeritus of the SETI Institute, said there are several additional advantages to a search in the infrared realm.

    “The signals are so strong that we only need a small telescope to receive them. Smaller telescopes can offer more observational time, and that is good because we need to search many stars for a chance of success,” said Drake.

    The only downside is that extraterrestrials would need to be transmitting their signals in our direction, Drake said, though he sees this as a positive side to that limitation. “If we get a signal from someone who’s aiming for us, it could mean there’s altruism in the universe. I like that idea. If they want to be friendly, that’s who we will find.”

    Scientists have searched the skies for radio signals for more than 50 years and expanded their search into the optical realm more than a decade ago. The idea of searching in the infrared is not a new one, but instruments capable of capturing pulses of infrared light only recently became available.

    “We had to wait,” Wright said. “I spent eight years waiting and watching as new technology emerged.”

    Now that technology has caught up, the search will extend to stars thousands of light years away, rather than just hundreds. NIROSETI, or Near-Infrared Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, could also uncover new information about the physical universe.

    “This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales,” said Dan Werthimer, UC Berkeley SETI Project Director. “The instrument could discover new astrophysical phenomena, or perhaps answer the question of whether we are alone.”

    NIROSETI will also gather more information than previous optical detectors by recording levels of light over time so that patterns can be analyzed for potential signs of other civilizations.

    “Searching for intelligent life in the universe is both thrilling and somewhat unorthodox,” said Claire Max, director of UC Observatories and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “Lick Observatory has already been the site of several previous SETI searches, so this is a very exciting addition to the current research taking place.”

    NIROSETI will be fully operational by early summer and will scan the skies several times a week on the Nickel 1-meter telescope at Lick Observatory, located on Mt. Hamilton east of San Jose.

    The NIROSETI team also includes Geoffrey Marcy and Andrew Siemion from UC Berkeley; Patrick Dorval, a Dunlap undergraduate, and Elliot Meyer, a Dunlap graduate student; and Richard Treffers of Starman Systems. Funding for the project comes from the generous support of Bill and Susan Bloomfield.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    SETI Institute – 189 Bernardo Ave., Suite 100
    Mountain View, CA 94043
    Phone 650.961.6633 – Fax 650-961-7099
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