Tagged: SETI Institute Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • richardmitnick 12:52 pm on January 28, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astro 2020: Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics, , , , , , SETI Institute, 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


    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 .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 1:21 pm on January 18, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , SETI Institute, When New Horizons Met Ultima Thule   

    From SETI Institute: “When New Horizons Met Ultima Thule” Video 

    SETI Logo new
    From SETI Institute

    43 minutes

    Ultima Thule

    NASA New Horizons spacecraft

    Kuiper Belt. Minor Planet Center

    CEO Bill Diamond is joined by New Horizons Hazard team lead and SETI Institute Senior Scientist, Mark Showalter to discuss the spacecraft’s flyby of Ultima Thule, what it’s like working on the Hazards team, and even the naming of some of Pluto’s surface features.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

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

  • richardmitnick 1:49 pm on January 5, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , SETI Institute,   

    From Sky & Telescope: “NASA Renews Interest in SETI” 

    SKY&Telescope bloc

    From Sky & Telescope

    January 4, 2019
    David Grinspoon

    After a long hiatus, the space agency gets back into the SETI game.

    In July I wrote about innovative approaches for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). In that column I lamented the fact that NASA support for this field dried up in the 1990s and had not returned, even though astrobiology has since flourished. Many of us felt that the bureaucratically maintained distinction between astrobiology and SETI did not make intellectual sense, and we longed for SETI to be let in from the cold.

    Sometimes wishes come true.

    As that column went to press I received an email asking if I would help organize a workshop on “technosignatures.” The sponsor? NASA. That got my attention. The purpose was to explore how to best use NASA resources in a renewed search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Apparently, Congress’s new federal budget mandated that NASA spend $10 million “to search for technosignatures, such as radio transmissions, in order to meet the NASA objective to search for life’s origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe.” Wow!

    The workshop, which took place in September, was highly stimulating, and given the renewed government interest in SETI, the mood was bright and optimistic. Along with evaluation of historical and current searches, there was an openness to new ideas born of a kind of humility. We can’t really second-guess the properties or motivations of technological aliens, so we have to cast a wide net. In addition to “traditional” SETI searches for radio signals or laser pulses, we must be alert to more passive signs of technological entities that might not be trying to get in touch with anyone. These include possible artifacts beyond or within our own solar system, or planetary atmospheres altered or engineered by industrial activities.

    Attendees made an effort to stick to the prosaic questions: What observing programs can we ramp up in the next few years using NASA’s current or expected assets and instruments? How can NASA best collaborate with private partners such as the SETI Institute and Breakthrough Listen?

    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)

    Breakthrough Listen Project


    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 with SETI it’s hard to avoid deep philosophical musings. Some talks at the workshop delved into abstract but necessary puzzles about the properties and behavior of distant, advanced civilizations — even about what we mean by “advanced” and “civilization.” SETI has always combined solid engineering, daring speculation, and profound questioning.

    Laser SETI, the future of SETI Institute research

    This admixture didn’t always sit well with some. At the first international SETI conference in Byurakan, Soviet Armenia in 1971, organizers Carl Sagan and Iosif Shklovsky welcomed historians, philosophers, linguists, and social scientists along with the scientists. At the time, one young Soviet astrophysicist asked that the humanities be left out, stating he didn’t want to listen to “windbags.” A leading American physicist exclaimed, “To hell with philosophy! I came here to learn about observations and instruments . . .”

    This historical tension seemed absent from September’s workshop. Although our prime directive was to guide NASA in the use of its assets to search for technosignatures, there was respectful discussion of the more esoteric and humanistic questions that are naturally evoked, and a recognition that a mature SETI program going forward will involve more than just telescopes and computer models. Out of this will come new calls for proposals to NASA, and then a new era of federally funded SETI research. May it be long and fruitful.

    See the full article here .

    NASA might also consider aiding SETI@home, a BOINC project from the Space Science Lab at UC Berkeley processing data from The Arecibo Observatory

    SETI@home, a BOINC project originated in the Space Science Lab at UC Berkeley

    NAIC Arecibo Observatory operated by University of Central Florida, Yang Enterprises and UMET, Altitude 497 m (1,631 ft).


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Sky & Telescope magazine, founded in 1941 by Charles A. Federer Jr. and Helen Spence Federer, has the largest, most experienced staff of any astronomy magazine in the world. Its editors are virtually all amateur or professional astronomers, and every one has built a telescope, written a book, done original research, developed a new product, or otherwise distinguished him or herself.

    Sky & Telescope magazine, now in its eighth decade, came about because of some happy accidents. Its earliest known ancestor was a four-page bulletin called The Amateur Astronomer, which was begun in 1929 by the Amateur Astronomers Association in New York City. Then, in 1935, the American Museum of Natural History opened its Hayden Planetarium and began to issue a monthly bulletin that became a full-size magazine called The Sky within a year. Under the editorship of Hans Christian Adamson, The Sky featured large illustrations and articles from astronomers all over the globe. It immediately absorbed The Amateur Astronomer.

    Despite initial success, by 1939 the planetarium found itself unable to continue financial support of The Sky. Charles A. Federer, who would become the dominant force behind Sky & Telescope, was then working as a lecturer at the planetarium. He was asked to take over publishing The Sky. Federer agreed and started an independent publishing corporation in New York.

    “Our first issue came out in January 1940,” he noted. “We dropped from 32 to 24 pages, used cheaper quality paper…but editorially we further defined the departments and tried to squeeze as much information as possible between the covers.” Federer was The Sky’s editor, and his wife, Helen, served as managing editor. In that January 1940 issue, they stated their goal: “We shall try to make the magazine meet the needs of amateur astronomy, so that amateur astronomers will come to regard it as essential to their pursuit, and professionals to consider it a worthwhile medium in which to bring their work before the public.”

  • richardmitnick 9:07 pm on November 13, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Nathalie Cabrol-Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, SETI Institute, Supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute and helping prepare missions such as Mars 2020 and ExoMars that will soon seek traces of ancient biosignatures on the Red Planet, The search for life beyond Earth, Update from the SETI Institute NAI Team 2018 Expedition to the Andes   

    From SETI Institute: “Update from the SETI Institute NAI Team 2018 Expedition to the Andes” 

    SETI Logo new

    From SETI Institute

    Nathalie Cabrol, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, is leading the SETI Institute NAI team on its 2018 field expedition to the Andes:

    Nathalie Cabrol-Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe

    “This year, between October 17-November 20, 2018, my team and I are returning to the Chilean High Andes,” said Nathalie. “There, we will continue the development of new planetary exploration strategies, instruments, and systems, which in the near future will dramatically change the way we search for life beyond Earth. Our project is supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute and helps prepare missions such as Mars 2020 and ExoMars that will soon seek traces of ancient biosignatures on the Red Planet.”

    While the team is in Chile, Nathalie will be providing updates when she is able to be in an area with an internet connection. The photos are amazing!

    Follow along with us:

    Field Update 1.
    Pajonales: Biosignature Detection in Mars Analog Environment
    Our team arrived safely in Chile and spent several days (Nov. 1-3) at our first site, Salar de Pajonales, deploying instruments and performing experiments. Some of the instruments we brought with us are equivalent to those that will be onboard NASA’s Mars 2020 and ESA’s ExoMars.

    Our goal is to support these missions by understanding how we transition from the characterization of planetary habitability – the type of exploration that was performed in the past 15 years, to searching for ancient or recent biosignatures on Mars, which is the goal of the upcoming missions.

    Habitability is primarily defined by astronomy and environment (physicochemical conditions), whereas ancient habitats are defined by biology, in this case, microbial life. Their scales (habitability vs. habitats) and the resolution needed to explore them are vastly different, which means that exploration strategies and methods must adapt. One of the main questions is then how much the data we have at global to regional scales inform us about the patterns that we should be searching for when exploring for microbial habitats, and how we can integrate this information from orbit to the ground?

    This is what we are documenting in Chile in the coming 3 weeks with a number of cameras, including a visible camera, Raman and XRD-XRF spectrometers, drones, drills, experiments that include organics, DNA, all sorts of microenvironmental sensing and sampling, and much more. Salar de Pajonales is for most a dry lakebed with a vast field of gypsum mounds and polygons that offer very localized and small scale, repeatable habitats to extremophiles. Located at the boundary of the Atacama desert, it provides a great analog to ancient Martian lakes (see photos).

    Salar de Pajonales (photo 80) (3,600 m/ 11,800 ft)| Otherworldly landscape at the boundary between the Atacama desert and the Altiplano. In the horizon, the Lastaria volcano continues to spew large plumes of water vapor and sulfur. Credit image: Michael Phillips, University of Tennessee Knoxville and the SETI Institute NAI Team.

    Human scale of Exploration (photo 81) | Drone imagery provides the bird eye’s view of our team at work in Salar de Pajonales. It also reveals critical clues about the landscapes and the patterns associated with microbial habitats that are not always easily visible from the ground. For instance, while small fields of polygons are obvious when we walk in the salar, the larger polygon patterns become obvious only from the air. Credit image: Michael Phillips, University of Tennessee Knoxville and the SETI Institute NAI Team.

    Windstorm (photo 82) | Nov 2, a windstorm started in early morning and stopped as abruptly as it had started around 5PM. The wind was fierce and created an amazing game of shadows and light all day long. In this barren desert, life is nowhere to be seen at the surface. It is hiding in very localized subsurface habitats. Credit image: Michael Phillips, University of Tennessee Knoxville and the SETI Institute NAI Team.

    The Expedition by the Numbers

    19 scientists
    13 institutions and companies
    4 countries (Chile, USA, Spain, Mexico)
    2 medical doctors
    2 cooks
    A 5 member team for logistical support
    2 National Geographic photographers
    7 pickup trucks; 1 truck for the equipment
    4.5 tons of equipment
    5 exploration sites

    And the odometer is still running. We are barely coming back from site one and the odometer for our convoy is already close to 1,000 km, most of them in conditions that would not really qualify as dirt trails. We call it the altiplanic “massage”.

    Participating Institutions and Companies

    The SETI Institute
    Carnegie Mellon University, The Robotics Institute
    Centro de Astrobiología de Madrid, Spain
    Honeybee Robotics
    National Geographic
    Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
    Panorama Research Institute
    Universidad Catolica del Norte, Antofagasta, Chile
    University of Guam
    University of Montana
    University of Southern California
    University of Tennessee, Knoxville

    Our camp at night. Right in the center of the star trail, the two Magellanic Clouds give visions of alien worlds. Credit photo: Victor Robles, Campoalto and the SETI Institute NAI Team.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

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

  • richardmitnick 11:47 am on November 8, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Radcliffe, SETI Institute, , The search for intelligent life in the universe   

    From Harvard Gazette: “Is anybody out there?” 

    Harvard University
    Harvard University

    From Harvard Gazette

    Earth’s night lights seen from the International Space Station. Photo courtesy of NASA

    Astronomer Jill Tarter on the search for intelligent life.

    The question of whether we’re alone in the universe has haunted humankind for thousands of years, and it’s one astronomer Jill Tarter has tried to answer for much of her life. Tarter, chair emeritus of the Center for SETI Research, worked as a project scientist for NASA’s SETI program, which aimed to detect transmissions from alien intelligence.

    She currently serves on the board for the Allen Telescope Array, a group of more than 350 telescopes north of San Francisco.

    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)

    “We are looking for signals at some frequency, some wavelength that don’t look like what Mother Nature produces,” she said in 2014.

    Tarter, an inspiration behind the novel and film Contact, visited campus last month to participate in the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study’s science symposium “The Undiscovered,” which addressed how scientists “explore realities they cannot anticipate.” We spoke with her about her work and why it matters.

    Q&A with Jill Tarter

    Jill Tarter Image courtesy of Jill Tarter

    GAZETTE: You’ve spoken a lot about the importance of perspective. What would finding other intelligent life do to our perspective on life in the universe and our own lives?

    TARTER: Even not finding it but trying to find it is important because it helps to give people a more cosmic perspective. I usually send people home from a lecture with a homework assignment, which is to go and alter their profiles on all of their social media so that the first thing they say about themselves is that they are an Earthling, because I think that this is the kind of perspective we are going to need to figure out how to solve all these really difficult challenges we have that don’t respect national boundaries. We’ve got to do it in a systemic global way, and I think the first step to getting there is to see ourselves in that context.

    GAZETTE: What are the odds are that we might find something?

    TARTER: It seems like there’s perhaps an impression that the universe has become more biofriendly in terms of what we think we know. But it doesn’t mean that all that habitable real estate is inhabited. That is the question. We don’t know the answer to that, but I think it’s really exciting that we are developing ways to explore our own solar system and we are developing instruments that can hopefully image some of the worlds around other stars and try to find out whether there’s any biology or technology going on there.

    GAZETTE: Do you think that will happen in your lifetime?

    TARTER: Well, let’s see. Back in 2004, [genetic scientists] Craig Venter and Daniel Cohen made a very bold prediction. They said whereas the 20th century had been the century of physics, the 21st century was going to be the century of biology. I personally think that wasn’t bold enough. I think the 21st century is going to be the century of biology on Earth and beyond. I think this will be a century when we begin to understand whether or not life has originated within the solar system more than once, and perhaps around other stars.

    GAZETTE: You talked about giving your listeners homework. My colleague mentioned to me an app that you could download to your computer that would help search for intelligent life while the machine slept.

    TARTER: That’s right. It was called SETI@home and it was developed at UC Berkeley.

    SETI@home, a BOINC project originated in the Space Science Lab at UC Berkeley

    It runs as a background process on your computer and it really put citizen science and distributed computing on the map when it came out about 12 years ago. It didn’t invent distributed computing — people were already doing that to break codes or factor prime numbers. But it was such a sexy application that everybody grabbed it and it took off and citizen science followed in its footsteps. It’s a very large group of people who classify galaxies, who fold proteins for cancer research, who count craters on various pieces of real estate in the solar system.

    It’s still going. It processes data that has been recorded at the Arecibo and Green Bank observatories.

    NAIC Arecibo Observatory operated by University of Central Florida, Yang Enterprises and UMET, Altitude 497 m (1,631 ft).

    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

    GAZETTE: You famously disagreed with Stephen Hawking when he said that he feared the potentially aggressive nature of any intelligent life we might one day encounter.

    TARTER: Stephen was a brilliant man, but neither of us has any data on this point other than our own terrestrial history. My point of view is the kind of scenario that’s being posited is that they are going to show up and do us harm. Well, if they can get here, their technology is far more advanced than ours, and I don’t know how you get to be an advanced older technology and have a long history unless you outgrow the aggression that probably helped you to get smart in the first place. So, I think an old technology, if such a thing exists, is going to be stable and it’s going to have gone through the kind of cultural evolution, the kind of social evolution that [Harvard Professor] Steven Pinker talks about. So, from my point of view, if they are coming from an older technology and can get here, they don’t have bad intentions. It doesn’t mean that the interaction will be rosy, because there are often unintended consequences.

    GAZETTE: Final question: “Contact” excluded, favorite alien or space movie?

    TARTER: Oh, I like “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Harvard University campus
    Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

  • richardmitnick 12:08 pm on October 28, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , SETI Institute,   

    From Astronomy: Guest blog: Answers to your Laser SETI questions 

    Astronomy magazine

    From Astronomy Magazine

    August 17, 2017
    Alison Klesman

    The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is a humbling process, to be sure. It’s difficult in the extreme to find something when we don’t know where to look for it, or what it will look like when it appears.

    More on that shortly but, before I get any further, I’d like to thank three groups of people. This article wouldn’t exist without those who asked great questions: Tom Scarnati, Richard Hammer, Bartlomiej Król and daughter, Don Schmidt, Dr. Muhsin Sheriff, Michael J. Sloboda, Cormac McKay, Crystal Robin, Roshan Vemula. Because of the overlap and connectedness of their questions, I’ve aggregated my answers rather than addressing them one-by-one. Second, I want to share my deep personal gratitude to the over 500 people who’ve contributed and/or shared their support for the Laser SETI Indiegogo campaign. And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank my team and colleagues at the SETI Institute, who have moved this project forward in countless ways and constantly demonstrate the highest levels of scientific expertise and integrity.

    Now, how can we search when we don’t know what we’re looking for? The answer is easy to define as “an indication of something non-natural and not human.” Each SETI project refines this definition for their particular approach. In radio SETI, it’s traditionally a narrower signal than we’ve ever seen in nature, which is exactly what we always do to tune our communications to be more efficient. Optical SETI has historically looked for a clustering of photons on a very short timescale–nanoseconds. The SETI Institute’s latest project, Laser SETI, is also an optical SETI project but uses a broader definition of a single-color point source of light that comes from beyond the moon and starts and ends at a definite time, whether lasting nanoseconds or minutes.

    None of these systems are intended to immediately decipher and understand a signal, but really just detect its presence. This is different than communication systems we’re familiar with in everyday life, like WiFi, whose job it is to communicate lots of information, like pictures of cats.

    SETI has been carried out in various ways for nearly 60 years, what more is there to search?

    SETI@home, a BOINC project originated in the Space Science Lab at UC Berkeley

    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)

    The short answer and understatement of the year is “a lot.” The sum total of SETI experiments thus far haven’t yet covered even a tiny fraction of the space-time-frequency domain, and that’s looking for signals we can currently conceive of and detect. Clearly, the first thing to do is cover more of what we understand, starting with the most economical, then as we gain access to new technologies, like gravitational waves, we can search them too someday.

    Just which frequency (or color of radiation) to look for is a big problem. Project Ozma in 1960 searched two stars using a single-channel receiver over a miniscule portion of the radio dial.

    Howard E. Tatel Radio Telescope (85-1) at Green Bank site of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO)

    Today, the SETI Institute’s purpose-built Allen Telescope Array searches over 1000 times that amount of radio spectrum using 70 million channels, but there’s another million-fold increase required to cover the full radio dial. And with the reasonable budgetary assumption that we’ll be conducting these experiments from the surface of the Earth, there’s another spectral “window” in our atmosphere that we colloquially refer to as light—from ultraviolet, through the visible, into the deep infrared. Infrared might be an ideal choice if someone is intentionally trying to signal us, for instance, as it passes through interstellar dust much better because of its longer wavelength, but our detectors for it are less suitable and more expensive. And remember that they’ll be moving with respect to us, and may or may not have measured our atmosphere, so we’ll see whatever signal is sent as a different color/frequency than it was sent.

    Then there’s the number of places to search. If we limit ourselves to stars—which may not be valid if ET has much brighter transmitters than we do, or spaceships—then there’s 18 million within 1000 light years, which is about 1% of the diameter of our galaxy, and contains over 100 billion stars and is itself just one of billions of galaxies. And the sum total of all searches thus far haven’t even examined 1% of those 18 million stars.

    Finally, there’s the issue of time. Whatever signal we receive, it will have travelled across exactly as many light years as it took years to get here. It’s wonderful to see into the past, but we don’t know if signals are washing across us every second, every century, or never. An intriguing possibility, enabled by our newfound knowledge of exoplanets, is to look for a signal when two exoplanets line up along our line of sight. We’re just starting to study such opportunities. And, hoping the signal repeats so we can study it better, how often will that happen, if ever? What if the signal arrives while we’re looking at another part of the sky?

    Fortunately, as I alluded to before, technology has been improving consistently, decade over decade. This was anticipated by the SETI community when, 20 years ago, they set three goals. One was to build what became the Allen Telescope Array. Another was to monitor the whole sky all the time. This is where Laser SETI comes in.

    Laser SETI, the future of SETI Institute research

    It is the first economical project to take the spatial and time dimensions off the table, by observing the whole sky all the time—and across the entire optical band. Its unique design allows for 4 cameras to observe any potential signal, in order to produce compelling evidence of its origin or easily discard it as a false positive. It may or may not be the last SETI project ever, but it’s a major step forward and an achievement if we complete it.

    Moving on, many people ask what would happen if we discovered a signal. First, we would check and double-check ourselves. SETI must exclude all natural and human sources, instrumentation is complex, and nobody wants to embarrass themselves with a false alarm. Next, because this is science, it requires peer review and independent verification, wherever possible. We would ask other astronomers to examine the source, and bring their expertise to bear on both its apparent origin as well as our instrument and data. The SETI community is working on a system to quantify the confidence in a received signal, call the Rio Scale. Previous potentially interesting signals have demonstrated that this process includes the press and is necessarily international.

    This radio message was transmitted toward the globular cluster M13 using the Arecibo telescope in 1979. Image Credit Arne Nordmann (norro) Wikipedia

    NAIC Arecibo Observatory operated by University of Central Florida, Yang Enterprises and UMET, Altitude 497 m (1,631 ft).

    Another aspect of contact many people ask about is if we would respond and what would we say. Speaking for myself and my discussions with every other SETI scientist I’ve discussed this with, listening is completely separate from transmitting. In most cases the equipment is different but, more importantly, if and how we respond is a decision for the whole planet, not any small group. I’ve even heard the argument that we shouldn’t listen for signals for fear of who would respond or what they’d say. That strikes me as simply enabling whoever you think might respond to do so in secret and guarantee you don’t have a say in the matter!

    I’ve spent a lot more time thinking about how to send a self-explanatory (“anti-cryptographic”) message, than the words to put into it. Efforts along these lines are referred to as METI (Messaging to Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) but are not formal or prescriptive.

    METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) International has announced plans to start sending signals into space

    However, not to dodge the question and assuming the original signal didn’t have an obvious reply e.g. “Do you want to chat?” or “Can we eat all the humans?”, I would simply want to express greetings, thanks, and the hope that we could learn from each other. Since the round-trip time will likely be years, maybe millennia, that gives us a long time to think about it and probably include a lot more in response, perhaps even the sum of human knowledge—despite the guarantee that it would be out of date by the time it arrived.

    SETI is enthralling and empowering. It offers answers to questions we’ve had since the dawn of civilization, and the hope to unify all inhabitants of Spaceship Earth with the knowledge that we’re not alone. Contact would demonstrate to us that it’s possible to survive our technological adolescence. In today’s modern age, we all have a chance to participate in this thrilling process, whether via science and engineering, funding, or sharing our excitement with others. Thank you for your interest and please share your passion with others!

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 6:32 pm on October 18, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: E.T.- the Needle in the Cosmic Haystack, Jill Tarter’s Cosmic Perspective on Northern Public Radio, New Fast Radio Bursts Discovered by Australian Researchers, Remembering Carl Sagan, SETI Institute, Signs of Light-UC Santa Barbara, The Ascent of Astrobiology   

    From SETI Institute: “SETI Institute in the news October 4 – October 10, 2018” 

    SETI Logo new
    From SETI Institute

    Oct 16, 2018

    The Ascent of Astrobiology

    The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine brought together a panel of experts to discuss the field of astrobiology and its priorities going forward. Victoria Meadows, recipient of the SETI Institute’s Drake Award, serves on the Committee on Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe which put together the report.

    Space.com noted the sea-change in how the field of astrobiology is now regarded, and its relationship to the field of SETI. Jill Tarter, co-founder of the SETI Institute and Chair Emeritus for SETI Research, has long advocated for the serious consideration of searching for signs of technologically-advanced life in the big picture of astrobiology:

    The report also marks the reintroduction of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, into mainstream research. Cut off from NASA funding since the 1990s, the field seeks signals of technologically advanced civilizations — searching for life like us, rather than single-celled organisms.

    “It was just really frustrating and scientifically unsupportable to say that a particular piece of research was not part of the astrobiology picture,” Jill Tarter, a retired astrobiologist at the independent nonprofit SETI Institute who wasn’t on the committee, told Space.com. “At least it’s now legitimate and discussed as part of the whole astrobiology umbrella suite of investigations.”

    The report highlighted the need for collaborative work, highlighting the groundbreaking work of the research accelerator pioneered by the SETI Institute, Frontier Development Lab (FDL). It also noted the increased interest in technosignature research.


    New Fast Radio Bursts Discovered by Australian Researchers

    Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are high-energy pulses of radio emissions that last only milliseconds and appear to come from beyond the Milky Way; their exact nature and origin is unknown, and they’ve been a puzzle for scientists since their discovery in 2007. In September, researchers at Breakthrough Listen announced the detection of 72 new FRBs after applying machine learning techniques to analyze data already collected by the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia.

    Breakthrough Listen Project


    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

    More recently, a team of scientists announced the discovery of 20 more FRBs detected through sky surveys with the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope.

    Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) is a radio telescope array located at Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in the Australian Mid West. ASKAP consists of 36 identical parabolic antennas, each 12 metres in diameter, working together as a single instrument with a total collecting area of approximately 4,000 square metres.

    Newsweek turned to Andrew Siemion, Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI Research at the SETI Institute, for comment:

    Andrew Siemion, Director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and Principal Investigator on Breakthrough Listen, commented on the study. “The latest results from the ASKAP FRB team are very exciting,” he told Newsweek. “In addition to nearly doubling the number of known FRB sources, this work reveals the existence of a population of very bright FRB sources that had been expected, but not known, to exist.”

    These results mark a huge step forward in learning about a phenomenon whose nature prompts far more questions than answers so far.


    Signs of Light

    A promising new approach in the search for extraterrestrial signals has been proposed by physicists at the University of California, Santa Barbara. They plan to look for powerful artificial light sources from advanced extraterrestrial beings, that would, theoretically, be brighter than the stars. By repeatedly taking photos of the Andromeda galaxy, and then comparing the photos, they hope to detect any new brightness that may appear. Why the Andromeda galaxy? Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, explains in a piece he wrote for NBC News MACH:

    The reason is simple: choosing a nearby galaxy means the project can quickly reconnoiter a vast swath of extraterrestrial territory.

    Andromeda, like the Milky Way, is thought to contain a trillion or so planets, a fact that led the Santa Barbara physicists to inventively dub their effort the Trillion Planet Survey. Most conventional searches for E.T. look for signals from nearby star systems one at a time. By examining an entire galaxy at once, the Santa Barbara scientists aim to greatly increase the chance of finding something.

    The survey process is automated and can continue as long as it maintains support, but of course it still relies on the hope that detectable signals exist. Nonetheless, Shostak remarks, “few searches have eyed as much cosmic real estate as the Trillion Planet Survey plans to do”. They might indeed catch a surprise ray of light.


    Remembering Carl Sagan

    Carl Sagan NASA/JPL

    Perhaps no single figure is so remembered for inspiring in our hearts with the wonder of science as late astronomer Carl Sagan – known by many as a science educator and for his “Cosmos” TV series, Sagan also made significant scientific contributions of his own. Space.com remembered his work and legacy, in particular his contributions to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence:

    Sagan helped lay the groundwork for two new scientific disciplines: planetary science and exobiology, or the study of potential life on other planets. He co-founded and served as the first president of The Planetary Society, an organization dedicated to inspiring and involving the public in space exploration. And he promoted the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, where he served as a trustee.

    Sagan was also known for his fictional depictions of real science:

    Although the majority of Sagan’s work was nonfiction, he used fiction to present scientific principles in his 1985 novel “Contact” (Simon & Schuster, 1985). The story revolved around interactions between the human race and an advanced civilization of extraterrestrials. The novel sold over a million copies in its first two years of publication, and in 1997, it was released as a major motion picture starring Jodi Foster as main character Ellie Arroway (who was inspired by real-life SETI astronomer Jill Tarter).

    Jill Tarter co-founded of the SETI Institute, which today carries on Sagan’s legacy of exploration and outreach. As Sagan once said, according to his 1996 obituary:

    ” Are we an exceptionally unlikely accident or is the universe brimming over with intelligence? (It’s) a vital question for understanding ourselves and our history.”

    You can read about the SETI Institute’s Carl Sagan Center here.


    E.T., the Needle in the Cosmic Haystack

    As interest in the field of SETI research grows, a question persists – where is everybody else? A new paper by researchers from Pennsylvania State University [https://arxiv.org/abs/1809.07252] takes a look at the question of how much ground the search has covered so far. The conclusion? Not much.

    Motherboard discussed the report, noting that Jill Tarter, Chair Emeritus for SETI Research at the SETI Institute, has given the question a great deal of thought:

    SETI’s Jill Tarter

    Jill Tarter, a radio astronomer with the SETI Institute, for instance, has proposed a “nine-dimensional haystack” in which SETI searches range across the three spatial dimensions, time, two polarization dimensions of the radio signal, the central frequency of the radio signal, the sensitivity of receivers, and the way information is encoded in the signal.

    Using the nine-dimensional haystack, Tarter has likened all SETI searches to date to extracting a cup of water from all of Earth’s oceans and looking for evidence that fish exist only in that cup. When the Penn State researchers plugged eight parameters into their tool, they found that all the SETI searches to date was more like looking for life in a hot tub-sized sample of ocean water. Even though this is significantly larger than a glass of water, it’s still small in the grand scheme of things and the researchers note that these types of calculations can be useful to rebut the misconception that “SETI can be said to have ‘failed’ to find what it seeks.”

    For now, we cannot prove extraterrestrials exist nor conclude they don’t exist. What we do know is that we’ve barely begun to search.

    Jill Tarter

    Jill Tarter’s Cosmic Perspective on Northern Public Radio

    Jill Tarter, pioneering co-founder of the SETI Institute and Chair Emeritus for SETI Research, appeared on Northern Public Radio to describe her work as an astronomer looking for evidence of intelligent life beyond Earth. Tarter described why “intelligence” is a tricky term in this context:

    “We certainly don’t know how to detect intelligence per se at a distance,” Tarter explained. “So what it is actually all about is using technology as a proxy for intelligence. So, we’ve been trying to figure out ways to find evidence of someone else using a technology in ways that modify their environment that we might detect remotely. And yes it started with radio, and then went into optical.”

    Tarter also presented the lecture “A Cosmic Perspective: Searching for Aliens, Finding Ourselves” at Fermilab’s Ramsey Auditorium.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

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

  • richardmitnick 5:37 pm on October 18, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: SETI Institute, , Sunspot facility on Sacramento Peak in the southern part of New Mexico   

    From SETI Institute: “Mysterious goings-on at a New Mexico solar observatory have been hot news” 

    SETI Logo new
    From SETI Institute

    Sep 21, 2018
    Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer

    Sunspot facility on Sacramento Peak in the southern part of New Mexico, Elevation 9,186 ft (2,800 m)

    For the past two weeks, mysterious goings-on at a New Mexico solar observatory have been hot news. On Sept. 6, the Sunspot facility on Sacramento Peak in the southern part of the state was strung with yellow tape, and employees were sent home. This set off alarm bells across the Internet: Had astronomers found a lethal solar flare, or even signs of alien life? And was there a government cover-up?

    After days of rampant speculation, authorities finally fessed up and explained the situation as a “security issue.” They offered scant details but indicated that there had been a threat to people on the peak and that secrecy was necessary.

    Now the scare is over, all systems are “go” and the observatory is back in business. A nonstory, in other words. Except that there is something to ponder here.

    Why did the fantastic explanations for the hush-up get so much traction? A dangerous event on the sun — such as a coronal mass ejection that might disable satellites or disrupt the electric grid — could be quickly ruled out. There are dozens of solar observatories around the world, and all would have seen something and said something.

    But aliens … well, that might make more sense. At least to the large fraction of the populace who believe the government is covering up evidence of extraterrestrial life. A 2012 National Geographic poll found that nearly 80 percent of Americans think that the government is hiding information about the presence of aliens.

    The Sac Peak story fed into these beliefs, and offered a perfect storm of shadowy circumstances. To begin with, an observatory seems to have a direct connection to aliens because telescopes scrutinize the sky — where extraterrestrials hang out when they’re not spiriting folks out of suburban bedrooms. And Sac Peak is only 105 air miles from the tiny town of Corona (northwest of Roswell) where — according to UFO lore — alien aviators purportedly ditched their flying saucer seven decades ago. To add suspicion to intrigue, Sac Peak’s work has been supported by government money, which to some makes it simultaneously suspect and malevolent.

    So of course it could be aliens.

    But why are the public, and even the media, so often drawn to this explanation for just about anything related to space? Americans seem prone to believe that tens of thousands of bureaucrats (or scientists, such as those working for NASA) could be corralled into making hugely important discoveries and keeping them secret. After all, it happens on TV all the time.

    For its part, our government does often act covertly. There was that five-year Pentagon UFO study revealed last December, for instance. And in the case of the Sac Peak closure, it does seem strange that authorities would say secrecy was necessary. The endless news stories about the observatory would be tip-off enough to any per perpetrator.

    When it comes to possible research cover-ups, I’m relentlessly skeptical. I know from decades of experience that science is open: It operates by demanding confirmation and making results public. “Publish or perish” may be a cliché, but it is nonetheless true. If you, as a scientist, keep your work secret, you’ll soon be seeking another line of work.

    Whatever happened at Sac Peak has yet to be explained. Aliens, to me, are highly unlikely to be part of the story. But in America, whenever the facts remain obscure you can always count on fevered imaginations to offer up their own unsteady illumination.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

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

  • richardmitnick 10:52 am on October 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Viking 2 Lander, , Search for Alien Life Should Be a Fundamental Part of NASA New Report Urges, SETI Institute, The Viking missions to Mars were the last time the space agency performed a direct explicit search for life on another world   

    From Scientific American: “Search for Alien Life Should Be a Fundamental Part of NASA, New Report Urges” 

    Scientific American

    From Scientific American

    October 15, 2018
    Adam Mann

    An image taken by the Viking 2 lander from Utopia Planitia on the surface of Mars in 1976. The Viking missions to Mars were the last time the space agency performed a direct, explicit search for life on another world. Credit: NASA

    NASA Viking 2 Lander

    For decades many researchers have tended to view astrobiology as the underdog of space science. The field—which focuses on the investigation of life beyond Earth—has often been criticized as more philosophical than scientific, because it lacks in tangible samples to study.

    Now that is all changing. Whereas astronomers once knew of no planets outside our solar system, today they have thousands of examples. And although organisms were previously thought to need the relatively mild surface conditions of our world to survive, new findings about life’s ability to persist in the face of extreme darkness, heat, salinity and cold have expanded researchers’ acceptance that it might be found anywhere from Martian deserts to the ice-covered oceans of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

    Highlighting astrobiology’s increasing maturity and clout, a new Congressionally mandated report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) [National Academies Press] urges NASA to make the search for life on other worlds an integral, central part of its exploration efforts. The field is now well set to be a major motivator for the agency’s future portfolio of missions, which could one day let humanity know whether or not we are alone in the universe. “The opportunity to really address this question is at a critically important juncture,” says Barbara Sherwood Lollar, a geologist at the University of Toronto and chair of the committee that wrote the report.

    The astronomy and planetary science communities are currently gearing up to each perform their decadal surveys—once-every-10-year efforts that identify a field’s most significant open questions—and present a wish list of projects to help answer them. Congress and government agencies such as NASA look to the decadal surveys to plan research strategies; the decadals, in turn, look to documents such as the new NAS report for authoritative recommendations on which to base their findings. Astrobiology’s reception of such full-throated encouragement now may boost its odds of becoming a decadal priority.

    Another NAS study released last month could be considered a second vote in astrobiology’s favor. This “Exoplanet Science Strategy” report recommended NASA lead the effort on a new space telescope that could directly gather light from Earth-like planets around other stars. Two concepts, the Large Ultraviolet/Optical/Infrared (LUVOIR) telescope and the Habitable Exoplanet Observatory (HabEx), are current contenders for a multibillion-dollar NASA flagship mission that would fly as early as the 2030s.

    NASA Large UV Optical Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR)

    NASA Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission (HabEx) The Planet Hunter

    Either observatory could use a coronagraph, or “starshade”—objects that selectively block starlight but allow planetary light through—to search for signs of habitability and of life in distant atmospheres.

    NASA JPL Starshade


    JPL-Caltech is developing coronagraph technology to enable direct imaging and spectroscopy of exoplanets using the Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets (AFTA) on the NASA Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).

    But either would need massive and sustained support from outside astrobiology to succeed in the decadal process and beyond.

    There have been previous efforts to back large, astrobiologically focused missions such as NASA’s Terrestrial Planet Finder concepts—ambitious space telescope proposals in the mid-2000s that would have spotted Earth-size exoplanets and characterized their atmospheres (if these projects had ever made it off the drawing board). Instead, they suffered ignominious cancellations that taught astrobiologists several hard lessons. There was still too little information at the time about the number of planets around other stars, says Caleb Scharf, an astrobiologist at Columbia University, meaning advocates could not properly estimate such a mission’s odds of success. His community had yet to realize that in order to do large projects it needed to band together and show how its goals aligned with those of astronomers less professionally interested in finding alien life, he adds. “If we want big toys,” he says. “We need to play better with others.”

    There has also been tension in the past between the astrobiological goals of solar system exploration and the more geophysics-steeped goals that traditionally underpin such efforts, says Jonathan Lunine, a planetary scientist at Cornell University. Missions to other planets or moons have limited capacity for instruments, and those specialized for different tasks often end up in ferocious competitions for a slot onboard. Historically, because the search for life was so open-ended and difficult to define, associated instrumentation lost out to hardware with clearer, more constrained geophysical research priorities. Now, Lunine says, a growing understanding of all the ways biological and geologic evolution are interlinked is helping to show that such objectives do not have to be at odds. “I hope that astrobiology will be embedded as a part of the overall scientific exploration of the solar system,” he says. “Not as an add-on, but as one of the essential disciplines.”

    Above and beyond the recent NAS reports, NASA is arguably already demonstrating more interest in looking for life in our cosmic backyard than it has for decades. This year the agency released a request for experiments that could be carried to another world in our solar system to directly hunt for evidence of living organisms—the first such solicitation since the 1976 Viking missions that looked for life on Mars. “The Ladder of Life Detection,” a paper written by NASA scientists and published in Astrobiology in June, outlined ways to clearly determine if a sample contains extraterrestrial creatures—a goal mentioned in the NAS report. The document also suggests NASA partner with other agencies and organizations working on astrobiological projects, as the space agency did last month when it hosted a workshop with the nonprofit SETI Institute on the search for “techno-signatures,” potential indicators of intelligent aliens.

    “I think astrobiology has gone from being something that seemed fringy or distracting to something that seems to be embraced at NASA as a major touchstone for why we’re doing space exploration and why the public cares,” says Ariel Anbar, a geochemist at Arizona State University in Tempe.

    All this means is astrobiology’s growing influence is helping bring what once were considered outlandish ideas into reality. Anbar recalls attending a conference in the early 1990s, when then–NASA Administrator Dan Goldin displayed an Apollo-era image of Earth from space and suggested the agency try to do the same thing for a planet around another star.

    “That was pretty out there 25 years ago,” he says. “Now it’s not out there at all.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

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

  • richardmitnick 10:50 am on October 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , SETI Institute, , Still a ways to go   

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne: “New tool helps scientists better target the search for alien life” 

    EPFL bloc

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

    © iStock

    Sarah Perrin

    An EPFL scientist has developed a novel approach that boosts the chances of finding extraterrestrial intelligence in our galaxy. His method uses probability theory to calculate the possibility of detecting an extraterrestrial signal (if there is one) at a given distance from Earth.

    Could there be another planet out there with a society at the same stage of technological advancement as ours? To help find out, EPFL scientist Claudio Grimaldi, working in association with the University of California, Berkeley, has developed a statistical model that gives researchers a new tool in the search for the kind of signals that an extraterrestrial society might emit. His method – described in an article appearing today in PNAS – could also make the search cheaper and more efficient.

    Astrophysics initially wasn’t Grimaldi’s thing; he was interested more in the physics of condensed matter. Working at EPFL’s Laboratory of Physics of Complex Matter, his research involved calculating the probabilities of carbon nanotubes exchanging electrons. But then he wondered: if the nanotubes were stars and the electrons were signals generated by extraterrestrial societies, could we calculate the probability of detecting those signals more accurately?

    This is not pie-in-the-sky research – scientists have been studying this possibility for nearly 60 years. Several research projects concerning the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) have been launched since the late 1950s, mainly in the United States.

    SETI@home, a BOINC project originated in the Space Science Lab at UC Berkeley

    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)

    Laser SETI, the future of SETI Institute research

    The idea is that an advanced civilization on another planet could be generating electromagnetic signals, and scientists on Earth might be able to pick up those signals using the latest high-performance radio telescopes.

    Renewed interest

    Despite considerable advances in radio astronomy and the increase in computing power since then, none of those projects has led to anything concrete. Some signals have been recorded, like the Wow! signal in 1977, but scientists could not pinpoint their origin.

    Wow! signal

    And none of them has been repeated or seems credible enough to be attributable to alien life.

    But that doesn’t mean scientists have given up. On the contrary, SETI has seen renewed interest following the discovery of the many exoplanets orbiting the billions of suns in our
    galaxy. Researchers have designed sophisticated new instruments – like the Square Kilometre Array, a giant radio telescope being built in South Africa and Australia with a total collecting area of one square kilometer – that could pave the way to promising breakthroughs.

    And Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner recently announced an ambitious program called Breakthrough Listen, which aims to cover 10 times more sky than previous searches and scan a much wider band of frequencies. Milner intends to fund his initiative with 100 million dollars over 10 years.


    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

    “In reality, expanding the search to these magnitudes only increases our chances of finding something by very little. And if we still don’t detect any signals, we can’t necessarily conclude with much more certainty that there is no life out there,” says Grimaldi.

    Still a ways to go

    Schematic view of the Milky Way showing six isotropic extraterrestrial emission processes forming spherical shells filled by radio signals. The outer radii of the spherical shells are proportional to the time at which the signals were first emitted, while the thicknesses are proportional to the duration of the emissions. In this example, the Earth is illuminated by one of these signals. ©Claudio Grimaldi.

    The advantage of Grimaldi’s statistical model is that it lets scientists interpret both the success and failure to detect signals at varying distances from the Earth. His model employs Bayes’ theorem to calculate the remaining probability of detecting a signal within a given radius around our planet. For example, even if no signal is detected within a radius of 1,000 light years, there is still an over 10% chance that the Earth is within range of hundreds of similar signals from elsewhere in the galaxy, but that our radio telescopes are currently not powerful enough to detect them. However, that probability rises to nearly 100% if even just one signal is detected within the 1,000-light-year radius. In that case, we could be almost certain that our galaxy is full of alien life.

    After factoring in other parameters like the size of the galaxy and how closely packed its stars are, Grimaldi estimates that the probability of detecting a signal becomes very slight only at a radius of 40,000 light years. In other words, if no signals are detected at this distance from the Earth, we could reasonably conclude that no other civilization at the same level of technological development as ours is detectable in the galaxy. But so far, scientists have been able to search for signals within a radius of “just” 40 light years.

    So there’s still a ways to go. Especially since these search methods can’t detect alien civilizations that may be in primordial stages or that are highly advanced but haven’t followed the same technological trajectory as ours.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university. It receives students, professors and staff from over 120 nationalities. With both a Swiss and international calling, it is therefore guided by a constant wish to open up; its missions of teaching, research and partnership impact various circles: universities and engineering schools, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and gymnasiums, industry and economy, political circles and the general public.

Compose new post
Next post/Next comment
Previous post/Previous comment
Show/Hide comments
Go to top
Go to login
Show/Hide help
shift + esc
%d bloggers like this: