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  • richardmitnick 8:56 am on August 11, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , SETI Institute   

    From Many Worlds: “SETI Reconceived and Broadened” 

    NASA NExSS bloc


    Many Words icon

    Many Worlds

    Marc Kaufman

    SETI’s Allen Telescope Array situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, 290 miles (470 km) northeast of San Francisco, California, USA, the focus of the organization’s effort to collect signals from distant planets, and especially signals that just might have been created by intelligent beings. (SETI)

    For decades, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and its SETI Institute home base have been synonymous with the search for intelligent, technologically advanced life beyond Earth.

    SETI Institute

    The pathway to some day finding that potentially sophisticated life has been radio astronomy and the parsing of any seemingly unnatural signals arriving from faraway star system — signals that just might be the product of intelligent extraterrestrial life.

    It has been a lonely five decade search by now, with some tantalizing anomalies to decipher but no “eurekas.” After Congress defunded SETI in the early 1990s — a Nevada senator led the charge against spending taxpayer money to look for “little green men” — the program has also been chronically in need of, and looking for, private supporters and benefactors.

    But to those who know it better, the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California has long been more than that well-known listening program. The Institute’s Carl Sagan Center for Research is home to scores of respected space, communication, and astrobiology scientists, and most have little or nothing to do with the specific message-analyzing arm of the organization.

    And now, the new head of the Carl Sagan Center has proposed an ambitious effort to further re-define and re-position SETI and the Institute. In a recent paper in the Astrobiology Journal, Nathalie Cabrol has proposed a much broader approach to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, incorporating disciplines including psychology, social sciences, communication theory and even neuroscience to the traditional astronomical approach.

    “To find ET, we must open our minds beyond a deeply-rooted, Earth-centric perspective, expand our research methods and deploy new tools,” she wrote. “Never before has so much data been available in so many scientific disciplines to help us grasp the role of probabilistic events in the development of extraterrestrial intelligence.

    “These data tell us that each world is a unique planetary experiment. Advanced intelligent life is likely plentiful in the universe, but may be very different from us, based on what we now know of the coevolution of life and environment.”

    With billions upon billions of galaxies, stars and exoplanets out there, some wonder if the absence of a SETI signal means none are populated by intelligent being. Others say the search remains in its infancy, and needs new approaches. The galaxy as viewed by the Hubble Space Telescope. (NASA/STScI)

    She also wants to approach SETI with the highly interdisciplinary manner found in the burgeoning field of astrobiology — the search for signs of any kind of life beyond Earth. And in a nod to NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, which has funded most of her work, Cabrol went on to call for the establishment of a SETI Virtual Institute with participation from the global scientific community.

    I had the opportunity recently to speak with Cabrol, who is a French-American astrobiologist with many years of research experience working with the NASA Mars rover program and with extremophile research as a senior SETI scientist. She sees the SETI search for technologically advanced life as very much connected with the broader goals of the astrobiology field, which are focused generally on signs of potential microbial extraterrestrial life. Yes, she said, SETI has thus far a distinctive and largely separate role in the overall astrobiology effort, but now she wants that role to be significantly updated and broadened.

    “The time is right for a new chapter for us,” she said. “The origins of SETI were visionary — using the hot technology of the day {radio astronomy} to listen for signals. But we don’t exactly know what to look and listen for. We don’t know the ways that ET might interact with its own environment, and that’s a drawback when looking for potential communications we might detect.”

    Cabrol foresees future SETI Institute research into neural systems and how they interact with the environment (“bioneural computing,”) much more on the theory and mechanisms of communication, as well as on big data analysis and machine learning. And, of course, into how potential biosignatures might be detected on distant planets.

    The ultimate goal, however, remains the same: detecting intelligent life (if it’s out there.)

    Nathalie Cabrol, director of SETI’s Carl Sagan Center, wants to expand and update SETI’s approach to searching for intelligent life beyond our solar system. (NASA)

    But with so much progress in the sciences that could help improve the chances of finding evolved extraterrestrial life, she said, it’s time for SETI to focus on them as a way to expand the SETI vision and its strategies.

    “The purpose is to expand the vision and strategies for SETI research and to break through the constraints imposed by imagining ET to be similar to ourselves,” she wrote. The new approach will “probe the alien landscapes and mindscapes, and generally further understanding of life in the universe.”

    The Institute will soon put out a call for white papers on how to expand the SETI search beyond radio astronomy, with an emphasis on “life as we don’t know it.” After getting those white papers — hopefully from scientists ranging from astronomers to evolutionary biologists — the Sagan Center plans a workshop to create a roadmap.

    Cabrol was emphatic in saying that the SETI search is not turning away from the original vision of its founders — especially astrophysicists Frank Drake, Jill Tarter and Carl Sagan — who were looking for a way to quantify the likelihood of intelligent and technologically-proficient life on distant planets. Rather, it’s an effort to return to and update the initial SETI formulation, especially as expressed in the famed Drake Equation.

    The Drake Equation, as first presented in 1961 to a gathering of scientists at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, W. Va.

    “What Frank proposed was actually a roadmap itself,” Cabrol said. “The equation takes into account how suitable stars are formed, how many planets they might have, how many might be Earth-like planets, and how many are habitable or inhabited.”

    Drake’s equation was formulated for the pioneering Green Bank Conference more than 50 years ago, when basically none of the components of his formula had a number or range that could be associated with it. That has changed for many of those components, but the answer to the original question — Are We Alone? — remains little closer to being answered.

    “I’ve talked a great deal with my colleagues about what type of life can be out there,” she said. “How different from Earth can it be?”

    “Now we’re looking for habitable environments with life as we know it. But it’s time to add life as we don”t know it, too. And that can help augment our targeting, help pinpoint better what we’re looking for.”

    “We think one of the key issues is how ET communicates with its environment, and the great advances in neuroscience can help inform what we do. The same with evolutionary biology. Given an environment with life, we want to know, what kind of evolution might be anticipated.”

    A diagram of the proposed SETI “connectivity network” between disciplines showing the bridges and research avenues that link together space, planetary, and life sciences, geosciences, astrobiology, and cognitive and mathematical sciences. Cabrol describes it as an expanded version of the Drake equation. (Astrobiology Journal/SETI Institute.)

    These are, of course, very long-term goals. No extraterrestrial life has been detected, and researchers are just now beginning to debate and formulate what might constitute a biosignature on a faraway exoplanet or, what has more recently been coined, a “bio-hint.”

    In her paper, Cabrol is also frank about the entirely practical, real-world reasons what SETI needs to change.

    “Decades of perspective on both astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) show how the former has blossomed into a dynamic and self-regenerating field that continues to create new research areas with time, whereas funding struggles have left the latter starved of young researchers and in search of both a long-term vision and a development program.

    “A more foundational reason may be that, from the outset, SETI is an all-or-nothing venture where finding a signal would be a world-changing discovery, while astrobiology is associated with related fields of inquiry in which incremental progress is always being made.”

    Whatever changes arrive, SETI will continue with its trademark efforts such as SETI@home — through which enthusiasts can help monitor and read incoming data on their computers — and the radio telescope observing itself. [This article is incorrect in stating that seti@home is a SETI Institute effort. seti@home is a BOIONC project at Space Science Lab, UC Berkeley seti@home receives data from the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico.] The Allen Telescope Array in Northern California came began its work in 2007 with 42 interconnected small telescopes. The SETI Institute had hoped to build the array up to 350 telescopes, but the funding has not been forthcoming.

    Cabrol is clearly a scientific adventurer and risk taker. During her extremophile research in Chile, she went scuba diving and free diving — that is, diving without scuba equipment — in the Licancabur Lake, some 20,000 feet above sea level. It is believed to be an unofficial altitude record high-altitude for both kinds of diving.

    With this kind of view of life, she is a logical candidate to bring substantial change to SETI. The new primary questions for SETI and the institute to probe are: How abundant is intelligent life in the universe? How does it communicate? How can we detect intelligent life?

    As she concluded in her Astrobiology Journal article:

    ‘Ultimately, SETI’s vision should no longer be constrained by whether ET has technology, resembles us, or thinks like us. The approach presented here will make these attributes less relevant, which will vastly expand the potential sampling pool and search methods, ultimately increasing the odds of detection.

    “Advanced, intelligent life beyond Earth is most likely plentiful, but we have not yet opened ourselves to the full potential of its diversity.”

    See the full article here .

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    About Many Worlds

    There are many worlds out there waiting to fire your imagination.

    Marc Kaufman is an experienced journalist, having spent three decades at The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer, and is the author of two books on searching for life and planetary habitability. While the “Many Worlds” column is supported by the Lunar Planetary Institute/USRA and informed by NASA’s NExSS initiative, any opinions expressed are the author’s alone.

    This site is for everyone interested in the burgeoning field of exoplanet detection and research, from the general public to scientists in the field. It will present columns, news stories and in-depth features, as well as the work of guest writers.

    About NExSS

    The Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) is a NASA research coordination network dedicated to the study of planetary habitability. The goals of NExSS are to investigate the diversity of exoplanets and to learn how their history, geology, and climate interact to create the conditions for life. NExSS investigators also strive to put planets into an architectural context — as solar systems built over the eons through dynamical processes and sculpted by stars. Based on our understanding of our own solar system and habitable planet Earth, researchers in the network aim to identify where habitable niches are most likely to occur, which planets are most likely to be habitable. Leveraging current NASA investments in research and missions, NExSS will accelerate the discovery and characterization of other potentially life-bearing worlds in the galaxy, using a systems science approach.
    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

  • richardmitnick 3:24 pm on August 2, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , SETI Institute   

    From Seth Shostak at SETI: “Danger, Will Robinson” 

    SETI Institute

    SETI Seth Shostak
    Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer


    The night sky, at least when you can see it, appears placid, serene and as inviting as a cold brew on a muggy afternoon.

    Don’t be fooled. The real universe is a nasty mélange of stuff that’s mostly scorching hot or bitterly cold. The blackness of space is shot through with lethal particles and radiation. Without doubt, the “final frontier,” often depicted as a beguiling playground for our Spandex-attired descendants, is deceptively treacherous.


    Not only that, it’s out to get you.

    How’s that? Well, you can start with the usual litany of heavenly harm: Asteroids that can mindlessly cannon our world, revenging their own destruction with ours, or solar flares, which could fatally sicken any humans who dare to rocket themselves to Mars. Then there’s Mars itself, which even on a good day is less hospitable than the worst environment on Earth.

    This cast of cosmic unpleasantries is well known. But there are other baddies whose malevolence is on a grander scale.

    Consider gravitational waves. Their discovery is trumpeted as perhaps the most significant science result of the past thousand days. The waves themselves are feebler than the Lichtenstein Navy, as anyone who has read about the LIGO instrument knows. But that’s because these waves come from far away. The slight shaking of space-time that made the headlines in February resulted from the collision of two black holes having a combined mass of five dozen suns. Their mutually assured destruction quickly released as much energy as all the stars in our galaxy have belched into space since Aristotle wrote rhetoric.

    That prodigious, black hole crash twiddled the cosmos here at Earth, more than a billion light-years from the collision, and it may also have let loose a burst of radiation which, if you were near enough to the action, could ruin your whole planetary day.

    It was an explosion of incomparable vigor, and explosions can be dangerous. But you may figure this is someone else’s problem, and maybe not even that. After all, who’s going to be hanging out in the vicinity of a pair of suicidal black holes?

    But there’s another threat that’s more worrisome: Gamma Ray Bursts, the result of a slightly different variety of cosmic mishap. When large stars die, they don’t go gently into the night. Single stars can implode, or two small, dead stars can collide. Either way, the resulting black hole is celebrated with a brief flash of gamma rays a million trillion times brighter than the Sun.

    Because most of this energy is shot out in two, oppositely directed beams, it’s highly concentrated. It could damage the atmospheres of planets even light-years away, which would be bad news for any biology.

    GRBs are not rare. Astronomers find a new one just about every day. And this points out the fact that the universe is a war zone in which random and lethal explosions occur in the star clouds of every galaxy.

    This has led some scientists to speculate that the majority of cosmic real estate is essentially a no man’s land for life. A recent suggestion is that GRBs rule out 90 percent of all galaxies for life, and even the Milky Way is probably barren except for its outer realms (where we are).

    That may sound like really bad news for biology. But wolves in the forest are bad news too, although there are still plenty of creatures out there. Only 15 percent of Earth’s surface is arable, but nonetheless, there are billions of humans. So sure, most cosmic real estate may be worthless, but that may be OK.

    However, the discovery of these mega-dangers does raise a maddening question: Why is the universe set up in such a way that GRBs don’t happen a hundred times more often, or aren’t a hundred times more energetic? After all, if that were the case, you wouldn’t be reading this.

    And there would be no one else able to read it either, in all the vast expanse of space.

    Are we that lucky? If you believe in multiple universes, then maybe the correct answer to that question is yes. Sure, most of these hypothesized, other universes would be sterile. But not ours: we’re just a winner in the most powerful of powerball lotteries, marveling at our fortune at being in a cosmos that is at least partially habitable.

    If this seems too contrived — if you’re not a fan of this idea — then science can’t help you. Yet.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 3:51 pm on July 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: METI, SETI Institute, What would we look like to E.T.?   

    From METI: “SETI, Imagining Extraterrestrial Civilizations, and War” 

    Illustration by Rlevente.


    John Traphagan

    I’ve often thought it interesting that when SETI scientists imagine extraterrestrial civilizations, they usually think in terms of unified worlds that have one civilization. The image is very much unlike our world, in which we have multiple civilizations that are fractured and in conflict with other societies. The Brexit event of the past couple of days is a good example of just how fractured our world is as well as representing some solid data not in support of the idea that humans are becoming increasingly unified.

    When we imagine other worlds, we tend to take a distant view and create images that reflect a fictionalized, romanticized representation of life right here on Earth. Rather than fractured worlds with many civilizations like the one on which we actually live, many SETI scientists think in terms of what I call the Star Trek Imaginary, in which each world forms a civilization equivalent to a geopolitical unit on Earth. In other words, we think of alien worlds as unified political states or countries.

    There is a good chance that this is an inaccurate view of civilizations on other planets, but it still may be a useful way to think about extraterrestrial intelligence if only to deconstruct our assumptions about life on other worlds. Indeed, one way to use this image is to turn it around and think about Earth from the perspective of an alien world. This makes for an interesting thought experiment.

    Suppose ET planted some sort of observational device near Earth, say, 6,000 years ago. Somehow, they had noticed that there seemed to be an emerging civilization and thought it would be interesting to study how things evolved. ET doesn’t have a lot of time to spend on watching Earth and the observational device isn’t sensitive enough to show all the nuances of political machinations throughout human history. So the data are limited in detail. The result is a wide-angle picture of Earth throughout history that gives a general sense of what cultural evolution on Earth is like. ET will have learned quite a bit, actually, about how humans evolve and form societies over time, but a lot of the detail will be left out. They probably won’t get the nitty-gritties about the Brexit.

    So what would such a device tell ET? As I thought about this, I realized there would be one overwhelming image ET would get about Earth. And it’s an image we here—with our close-up picture of our own history—don’t usually associate with civilization on this planet.

    I think what ET might conclude is that Earth has been at war for about 5,000 years—pretty much non-stop. The first war in recorded history seems to have been in Mesopotamia around 2,700 BCE between Sumer and Elam, and from the outside it might look like it never stopped. Since that time, if one were to stand back a bit from Earth, there is a pretty good chance that warfare would be the dominant feature of human civilization. There is always war going on somewhere on Earth. It ebbs and flows in intensity. Sometimes it’s regional; sometimes it covers most of the planet. But it is always there and it might look like one long war from an outside perch. If you didn’t know all of the political and historical details, there would be no reason to assume that our history had been an endless string of wars rather than simply one really long one.

    From our perspective, this would not be a very accurate picture. Different societies have had on-and-off periods of war and peace. And we don’t tend to think about our civilization(s) as being characterized by a single war lasting 5,000 years, because we understand the geopolitical details in which there have been lots of wars over that time, not just one war. But if you look at Earth from the outside and treat human societies as a civilization, then it’s probably a reasonable conclusion about us. From the external—or in anthropology what we would call etic—perspective, human civilization might appear to be based on and characterized by a single war that has spanned almost 5,000 years.

    This raises the importance of seeing the difference between proximate and distant perspectives and the difficulties in imagining intelligent life and civilizations on other worlds when we don’t have a lot of data to work with (or in our current situation, without any data at all). SETI scientists often tend to impose their own assumptions about intelligence and civilization on imagined extraterrestrial worlds and those assumptions are shaped by ideas about the way our world is that: 1) may not be empirically accurate, and 2) are unlikely to reflect how we would look to outsiders.

    The devil is in the details, and we don’t have any of those, since we have no evidence of alien intelligence. But even if we do get evidence sometime, we probably won’t have much detail and we will need to be very careful to avoid imposing the Star Trek Imaginary—or any other set of assumptions—on what little data we receive. Standing back and trying to imagine what our world would look like to distant outsiders is a useful way of trying to control this tendency to imagine alien others in terms of romanticized images of ourselves.

    Perspective is important. It may well be that characterizing our world as being at war for 5,000 years is accurate, but it isn’t how we see ourselves and that, too, is an important piece of data about humans. Recognizing the potential disjuncture between how we see ourselves and how others might see us is a key component of trying to deflect, to the extent possible, our tendencies to infuse assumptions about intelligence and civilization drawn from our proximate understanding of and imagination about life on Earth into our speculations about intelligent life on other worlds.

    • Matthew Wright 4:16 pm on July 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      I agree. Our own situation is predictable given our nature as humans – arguably very much a product of our ape ancestry (chimps fight wars too) and of the way our species evolved. There’s a reasonably compelling argument that hunter-gatherer bands of around 150, the largest that a reasonable day’s walking could support, were cohesive. Larger bands were usually not and there was likely an evolutionary advantage in competition between bands of 150. Archaeological evidence points to wars in hunter-gatherer times, before agriculture emerged. It’s an interesting theory and if true, explains a fair amount including the way we’ve had to intellecualise stability into larger communities. Would aliens be the same? Highly unlikely. My take on aliens is that we might not even recognise them as such despite the way sci-fi often ideates them into better (human-style) societies.


    • Greg Long 7:56 pm on July 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Completely agree.


  • richardmitnick 6:52 am on July 13, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , SETI Institute   

    From Nathalie Cabrol at SETI: “SETI Institute Calls for New Tools in Search for ET” 

    SETI Institute

    July 07 2016
    Nathalie Cabrol
    SETI Institute
    Email: ncabrol@seti.org
    Tel: +1 650-810-0226

    Seth Shostak
    SETI Institute
    Email: seth@seti.org
    Tel: +1 650 960-4530

    Bill Diamond
    SETI Institute
    Email: bdiamond@seti.org
    Tel: +1 650 960-4510

    The SETI Institute Director of Research, proposed a broader, multidisciplinary approach to the SETI search, beyond radio and optical modalities, in an article published today in the journal Astrobiology. “Are we alone in the Universe?” is the provocative question that inspires the scientific search for life beyond Earth. Today, we know definitively of only one planet that hosts life, and that is Earth. How can we find life, and in particular, intelligent life beyond our world?


    Alien Mindscapes – A Perspective on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence” authored by Nathalie A. Cabrol, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for Research at the SETI Institute, suggests the need for a sea change in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, where the full complement of physical, biological, computer and social sciences are deployed in a quest to look for life as we do not know it. Cabrol asserts that “To find ET, we must open our minds beyond a deeply-rooted, Earth-centric perspective, expand our research methods and deploy new tools. Never before has so much data been available in so many scientific disciplines to help us grasp the role of probabilistic events in the development of extraterrestrial intelligence. These data tell us that each world is a unique planetary experiment. Advanced intelligent life is likely plentiful in the universe, but may be very different from us, based on what we now know of the coevolution of life and environment.”

    Led by pioneers such as Frank Drake and Jill Tarter, SETI – the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence – commenced in the 1960’s using radio astronomy to listen for signals from ET. Today, both radio and optical SETI searches seek signals generated by technology similar to ours. There are compelling reasons to continue with these endeavors, but equally compelling reasons to broaden the search criteria and expand the existing methodologies.

    In her paper’s call to action, Cabrol promotes the establishment of a Virtual Institute with participation from the global scientific community. The new SETI Virtual Institute will integrate our new knowledge to understand who, what, and where ET can be, and step beyond the anthropocentric perspective. New detection strategies generated by this approach will augment our chances of detection by identifying new survey targets. The purpose is to expand the vision and strategies for SETI research and to break through the constraints imposed by imagining ET to be similar to ourselves. This new endeavor will probe the alien landscapes and mindscapes, and expand our understanding of life in the universe.

    “The timing is right for SETI research around the world to open a new chapter in its history. The SETI Institute is taking the lead on this new path,” says Bill Diamond, President and CEO of the SETI Institute. “In the coming months, we will invite the US and international research communities to contribute to a new scientific roadmap for SETI. We will explore resources for the development of a Virtual Institute and an intellectual framework for projects focused on the advancement of knowledge on extraterrestrial intelligence.”

    See the full article here .

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

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



    July 12, 2016
    Sarah Sloat

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

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

    SETI Jill Tarter
    Jill Tarter

    Carl Sagan
    Carl Sagan

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

    SETI Institute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    CSIRO/Parkes Observatory
    CSIRO/Parkes Observatory

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

    A Breakthrough Starshot solar sail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 3:55 pm on June 24, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Searching for exterrestrial life, , SETI Institute,   

    From Seth Shostak at SETI: “ATA Checks Out Nearby Planetary System” 

    SETI Institute


    SETI Seth Shostak
    Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer

    Could extraterrestrial intelligence be relatively nearby? With that possibility in mind, the Allen Telescope Array has been used to observe planets around the star Trappist 1 – a target that is a mere 40 light-years distant.

    Trappist 1 system. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser.

    In general, SETI has preferentially swung its antennas in the directions of star systems with known planets, preferably of the potentially habitable variety. Many of these candidate systems were discovered using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. The detailed working of that instrument mandate that the discovered exoplanets are at quite large distances, typically between 500 and 1500 light-years.

    The consequences of this limitation can be demonstrated in the case of Kepler object KIC 8462852, also known as “Tabby’s Star”. This stellar system is in the news because of the provocative speculation that it might be the site of a megastructure constructed by advanced extraterrestrials, perhaps an ensemble of solar panels for collecting energy. This widespread interest prompted scientists at the SETI Institute to use the Allen Telescope Array to search for radio transmissions coming from its direction. None were found, but because of the considerable distance to this object (1470 light-years), it is impossible to rule out the existence of reasonably powerful transmissions that were – at this remove – simply too weak to be detected.

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

    By contrast, Trappist 1, which was discovered by a group of exoplanet researchers led from the University of Liege in Belgium, is in our cosmic backyard. It offers a more-than-thousand-fold improvement in sensitivity to any transmissions. The three detected planets around this dim, red dwarf are roughly the same size as the Earth, with orbital periods of a few days to possibly as much as 2-1/2 months. They are, quite obviously, in very tight orbits. But because their host star is so dim, all three could be “habitable” in the sense of (1) being rocky worlds like Earth or Mars, and (2) sporting temperatures that would permit liquid water oceans and an atmosphere. A further, more speculative consideration is that any stellar system with more than one habitable planet could host a civilization for which interplanetary communication links would be important – a possible source of detectable signals.

    The Allen Telescope Array is uniquely capable of observing targets of opportunity, so for two days in early May it searched for narrow-band radio signals (~1 Hz or less) coming from the direction of Trappist 1.

    This was not an entirely easy task. As Institute engineer Jon Richards notes, “Every day, Trappist 1 passes near the belt of geosynchronous satellites that orbit the Earth, and consequently there’s a lot of signal interference. Without the Array’s unique beamforming scheme and interference mitigation software we would have been stymied in our attempts to observe this system.”

    The radio spectrum between 1 and 10 GHz was examined, and no signals above 3 10-24 watts/m2-Hz were found. The import of that upper limit to signal strength can be demonstrated with an example. If Trappist 1 has inhabitants sending a signal in our direction with an antenna 300 m in size (the same as the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico), then our observations would be able to find it if the transmitter had a power of 300 kilowatts or more. That is hardly an implausible power level.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:47 pm on June 18, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Cosmic Dairy Network, Franck Marchis, SETI Institute, Triple asteroid system (87) Sylvia   

    From Cosmic Diary via SETI : “The Triple Asteroid (87) Sylvia” 

    SETI Institute

    Cosmic Diary

    June 15, 2016
    Franck Marchis, Senior Researcher and Chair of the Exoplanet Group at the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute

    “Another beautiful simulation of the triple asteroid system (87) Sylvia and its two moons Romulus and Remus made in collaboration with the California Academy of Sciences.

    Sylvia was discovered in 1866 by N.R. Pogson, a British astronomer located in Madras, India. This main-belt asteroid is large with a diameter of ~150 km. That’s all we knew until recently.

    In 2005, we discovered two moons around the asteroid that we baptized Romulus and Remus, sons of the Rhea Sylvia and founder of Rome. Both moons are very small with a diameter estimated to ~20 and ~7 km. The primary is irregular with a diameter of 193 x 129 x 124 km. Both moons orbit around the primary describing a coplanar and almost circular orbit.

    From a long term study of their orbit we concluded that the primary is possibly differentiated, made of a dense core of ice. How the moons have formed is still unclear. They could be the product of a catastrophic disruption of a large asteroid early in the history of the solar system.

    Sylvia is the first triple asteroid ever discovered. I have a fond memory of the day, I presented this discovery at the ACM conference in August 2005 at Buzios, Brazil, simultaneously with the publication in Nature. It was a very special moment in my career.

    Today we know six triple asteroids in the asteroid main-belt (45 Eugenia, 87 Sylvia, 93 Minerva, 130 Elektra, 216 Kleopatra, 3749 Balam)and there are probably more of them waiting to be discovered with the next generation of space-based and ground-based telescopes.

    Clear Skies,”

    Frank M

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:14 pm on June 4, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , SETI Institute, The Other Way to Find Life Out There   

    From Seth Shostak at SETI Institute: “The Other Way to Find Life Out There” 

    SETI Institute


    SETI Seth Shostak
    Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer, SETI Institute

    In the three-way horse race to prove that biology is not just a terrestrial aberration, there’s one steed that many people ignore: sampling the air of distant planets to see if they contain the exhaust gases of life, or in the jargon of astrobiologists, biosignatures.

    No image caption. No image credit

    Everyone knows the other horses: (1) Finding biology in the solar system by hurling rockets to Mars or some of the moons of Jupiter or Saturn, and (2) expanding our SETI experiments to eavesdrop on radio or laser signals from clever beings on distant worlds.

    The former has the advantage that, if microbes have sprung up elsewhere in the solar system, we might be able to bring them back, dead or alive. We’d have aliens on Earth, an idea that would electrify astrobiologists.

    The latter horse – SETI – endeavors to discover the most interesting variety of extraterrestrial, namely those that are technically advanced. But a difficulty with SETI is that we need to be aiming our telescopes in the direction of signals while they wash over our planet, neither before nor after. There’s a synchronicity problem.

    Bugle call, and the third horse – a contender not hobbled by the inconvenience of synchronicity. Consider: the Earth’s atmosphere is roughly 21 percent oxygen, a consequence of billions of years of photosynthetic activity. Oxygen is an exhaust gas of greenery. You can blame the rusted out-body of that clunker in your driveway on plants.

    The neat thing about this is that the oxygen signature in Earth’s air has been present for roughly two billion years. For all that time, oxygen has been broadcasting its existence into space. It could be easily detected by any advanced extraterrestrials with enlightened astronomy budgets, even from vast distances. There’s no synchronicity problem, because this signal lasts for eons.

    That’s nag number three’s tempting appeal, and Daniel Angerhausen, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, is betting on it. He’s used telescopes on the ground, in the air, and in orbit to look for the spectral signatures of not just oxygen, but other biology “tells,” such as methane.

    The obvious way to do this would be to just train a telescope on an exoplanet – a planet around another star – and analyze the reflected light. That approach is dead obvious but extremely difficult, given that precious few such worlds can be directly imaged with today’s instruments.

    Angerhausen’s scheme is to observe exoplanets that regularly pass in front of their home suns. When they do, they cause a slight dimming of the starlight. This is, of course, the technique wielded by NASA’s Kepler telescope to uncover thousands of (still-invisible) worlds. Kepler senses mini-eclipses taking place many hundreds of light-years away.

    Angerhausen’s trick is to subtract the spectrum – the rainbow spread of light – from a star when a planet is not passing in front or behind it, from spectra taken when it is. Think about it: Most of the time what your telescope sees is a combination of both starshine and light reflected off the planet. But when the planet is silhouetted in front or hidden behind the star, you only see the starshine. Taking the difference removes the contribution of the star, and leaves you with the spectrum of the planet’s atmosphere.

    This is easier to describe than to do, and for all the usual reasons. Stars are bright and planets are dim, so the measurement is maddeningly difficult. Using a space-borne telescope avoids problems introduced by Earth’s churning atmosphere. But telescopes in orbit are generally small, and whatever instruments are on-board are the instruments you’re stuck with.

    So Angerhausen has tried another possibility – SOFIA, a cleverly acronymed telescope with a 2.7 meter mirror that rides around in a Boeing 747.

    NASA SOFIA Forcast

    Cruising through the night at high altitude, this instrument is above 90 percent of Earth’s pesky atmosphere. And when it lands, there’s ample opportunity to change out the instrumentation or make other improvements.

    Still, no joy. No clues to alien biology.

    So let’s tell it like it is: The biggest telescopes are neither in space nor the stratosphere. They’re on mountain tops, and Angerhausen has tried them. He’s not yet found biology-produced gases in a distant planet’s air with these glassy behemoths, but he has reason to remain sanguine about the chances. He’s counting on the relentless improvement in telescope technology – a trend that can be safely assumed for decades into the future, unless you’re a fan of imminent Armageddon.

    So what would it mean if he found, say, oxygen and methane together in some other world’s atmosphere? Sure, you’d have to check carefully to make sure the gases were truly biogenic. And even then, they might only say that there’s chlorophyll or its alien opposite number on that planet: in other words, the extraterrestrials might be no more than salad ingredients.

    But if other worlds can spawn lettuce or maybe just algae, there’s at least some chance that they could also grow something a little more interesting. Horse number three may be the race card’s least-known contender, but it has a shot.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 5:45 pm on May 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: AIR & Space, , , , , , SETI Institute, ,   

    From Air & Space: “SETI Gets an Upgrade” 


    Air & Space

    June 2016
    Damond Benningfield

    The Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia may pull in an alien signal. (Jiuguang Wang)

    Dan Werthimer doesn’t mean to be rude, but he’s getting ready to eavesdrop on the neighbors.

    For decades, astronomers have been listening for messages sent to us—a “Hello, is anyone out there?” signal from intelligent aliens. But now Werthimer is about to get nosier; his team at the University of California at Berkeley is conducting the first search for communities on other worlds that are speaking to one another—between planets and even across star systems. And to do it, he has two of the world’s largest radio telescopes and support from a planet‑hunting optical telescope.

    Thanks to a new initiative announced last July, Werthimer’s team will begin searching for extraterrestrial civilizations, using instruments with greater sensitivity and scanning across a wider range of frequencies than any SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) project to date. Called Breakthrough Listen, it began earlier this year and will continue for a decade at a price tag of $100 million. “It’s a lot of money, a lot of telescope time,” says Werthimer. “We’ll be able to look at a hundred billion radio channels simultaneously. A big problem in SETI is we don’t know on what frequency ET might be transmitting, so the more channels you can listen to, the better chance you have of finding” a communication.

    It’s an incredibly exciting time scientifically,” adds Werthimer’s colleague Andrew Siemion, director of Berkeley’s SETI Research Center and another Breakthrough Listen leader. “Something like one in five stars has an Earth-like planet…. And our ability to look for different kinds of signals from intelligent civilizations on those planets is growing by leaps and bounds.”

    Andrew Siemion eyed the Green Bank Telescope, in the 13,000 square-mile National Radio Quiet Zone, as ideal for SETI research in 2010. (Dr. Andrew P.V. Siemion)

    Even with improvements in technology, though, SETI has remained a tiny area within the field of radio astronomy. “In the entire world, there are probably fewer than 12 people who do full-time SETI research,” according to Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer for the SETI Institute in nearby Mountain View.

    But that small cadre of researchers, with the help of a few dozen part-time SETI dabblers, has plowed through an impressive number of projects. They have scanned the skies at radio and optical wavelengths for intentional messages from other civilizations. Researchers have picked through data from NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope for evidence of vast architecture eclipsing part of a star’s light. (The public release of one star’s odd light curve last year generated a round of speculation about alien mega-structures. Sadly, followup observations have suggested that the more likely explanation is a swarm of comets.) And they’ve looked for super-civilizations producing copious amounts of waste heat in the form of infrared energy. And the ideas never stop coming: There is a proposal to search for alien probes and artifacts in the solar system (possible payoffs but expensive) and another to listen for signals in beams of neutrinos or the recently discovered gravitational waves (far beyond current technology).

    The bottleneck is never a lack of ideas,” says Shostak. “The problem has always been funding.”

    From the first search for extraterrestrial signals—Frank Drake’s Project Ozma in 1960—SETI has struggled to be taken seriously by traditional funding agencies. Modest NASA studies in the 1970s and 1980s were criticized by the U.S. Congress; in 1993, legislators axed what was meant to be NASA’s long-term sky survey after just a year. Since then the field has survived, barely, primarily on private funding sources.

    Then last summer, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announced he would foot the bill for the biggest alien hunt in history. “In the 20th century, we stepped out from our planet—to space, to the moon, to the solar system,” Milner said at a press conference for Breakthrough Listen last summer. “In the 21st century, we will find out about life on a galactic scale…. It is time to open our eyes, our ears, and our minds to the cosmos.” Among the luminaries endorsing Milner’s project that day was astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.

    Milner, named after first-human-in-space Yuri Gagarin, was studying physics at Moscow University in the 1980s when the entrepreneurial spirit first hit him. He started buying American-made personal computers and reselling them in local shops, then ventured to the United States to get an MBA. After briefly working at the World Bank, he returned to Russia and began investing in businesses, parlaying the purchase of a small factory into the takeover of the country’s largest Internet company. With that move as an entry to the world of technology, Milner organized a venture capital fund, DST Global, which became an early investor in Facebook, then Twitter, Groupon, and Airbnb, along with major companies in India and China. According to Forbes, by the end of 2015 Milner amassed a net worth of $3.3 billion. In happy news for non-billionaire scientists, Milner started a foundation in 2012 that awards three $3 million prizes annually—the largest academic prize in the world—for achievements in fundamental physics, life sciences, and mathematics.

    He also refuses to give interviews about his latest investment, so we can get a sense of his intentions only from the people now running the Breakthrough Listen project. “He studied physics, he studied the same kind of books in school that I did, so he knows a lot about SETI,” says Werthimer. “He really appreciates all the subtle nuances, and he asks a lot of great questions. He knows the chances that we might find something are slim. But he speaks about this in the long term. He’s in it for the long haul.”

    The Nickel Telescope at California’s Lick Observatory (with SETI’s Dan Werthimer, second from left) will look for lasers. Being used in the Niroseti project (Laurie Hatch)

    Werthimer was already in it for the long haul—he’s been working on SETI for decades, although his original love was the hardware, rather than the research. He’s been a tech junkie since his school days, when he joined the Homebrew Computer Club in California, where his fellow members included Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. “We were kind of messing around in our basements, and we made the very first desktop,” Werthimer says. “Everybody in that club got filthy rich except for me, because I wanted to use the computers to do astronomy. But I got really good at computing. I built a lot of cool machines that were in some ways better than the Apple, but I never thought about selling them.”

    Werthimer began to build instruments that collect and analyze radio signals from space, and eventually started SETI@Home in 1999, a program that harnesses the background processing power of any computer it’s installed on to help sift through portions of the massive amounts of data from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

    SETI@home, BOINC project at UC Berkeley Space Science Lab
    SETI@home, BOINC project at UC Berkeley Space Science Lab

    NAIC/Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, USA
    NAIC/Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, USA

    And although his work hasn’t revealed any alien civilizations, Werthimer isn’t bothered by the silence. “I wouldn’t be in this field if I were not an optimist,” he says. “We’ve covered maybe a billionth of the parameter space. We can rule out super-civilizations that want to conquer the galaxy”—whew—“but we can’t rule out civilizations like ours.”

    Siemion too developed an early interest in science and technology. “I did a report when I was in third grade on a book by Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time,” he says. “When I got to Berkeley I was looking over possible research opportunities, and I discovered that there was a SETI group. I had an ‘aha’ moment—I knew immediately that that’s what I would do.”

    Siemion led his first SETI project while he was still a graduate student. He got the idea in 2010, while he was attending a meeting at the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Project Ozma. Attendees were re-creating Ozma, which originally used a small radio antenna at the Green Bank location, with the observatory’s new 300-foot-diameter Green Bank Telescope, the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world. While Ozma took about 150 hours of telescope time, the re-creation required only a few seconds to scan the same amount of sky.

    “I started thinking: Why not do some real SETI with the telescope,” Siemion says. “On the plane back to San Francisco, I met in the aisle with a few other people, and we decided to write a proposal.” The idea was to look at star systems in which the Kepler space telescope had discovered planets. “We actually received not the best grade from the time allocation committee at Green Bank,” he says. “They gave us a C, because I think they were a little bit suspicious about whether we would actually be able to do it, but luckily, even though it wasn’t highly ranked, we still got the time.”

    Breakthrough Listen will take advantage of the data from Siemion’s work with Green Bank, but more importantly, it comes at a crucial time for the observatory. Constructed in a valley in the West Virginia mountains, the Green Bank Telescope opened in 2000 as part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. NRAO is funded by the National Science Foundation and runs several facilities, including the Very Large Array in New Mexico and the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array, or ALMA, in Chile (“The Universe’s Baby Boom,” Aug. 2013).

    NRAO/VLA, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, New Mexico.
    NRAO/VLA, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, New Mexico


    But in 2012, NSF issued a report on the next 10 years of astronomy research that recommended pulling Green Bank’s funding by 2017, because some of its research abilities are duplicated at larger facilities like the VLA and Arecibo Observatory. Now SETI—usually the research area struggling for funding—has come along with Breakthrough Listen at just the right moment, providing a reason and the means to keep the telescope operating while its staff looks for additional funding.

    Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announces Breakthrough Listen last July alongside Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees, Frank Drake, and Ann Druyan. (Breakthrough Initiatives)

    One of Green Bank’s advantages is that it’s cocooned in the 13,000-square-mile National Radio Quiet Zone, where radio transmitters, cellphone towers, wifi networks, and other technology are limited by state and federal regulations. Scientists there would have an easier time determining if a signal in their observations is a message from another planet rather than a local teenager’s text. “One of the hardest things to do is tease out a signal from another civilization in the radio observations,” says Karen O’Neil, the Green Bank Observatory site director. “There are a lot of repeating patterns, but they’re all man-made.”

    Green Bank’s receivers are so sensitive they can detect the crackle of spark plugs in a gasoline-powered engine, so only diesel vehicles are allowed within a mile of the dish. The microwave oven in the observatory’s cafeteria sits inside a shielded box, and once the telescope even picked up interference from a small current generated by a wet dog lying down on an old heating pad. Staff members drive around in a pickup truck equipped with scanning equipment to track down stray electromagnetic signals, and sometimes lend a hand to help repair or replace offending devices in nearby businesses and homes.

    SETI is using some of the project funding to expand Green Bank’s computer capabilities far beyond those of any previous radio SETI project. The system will be able to process and store as much data in a single day as existing projects do in a year or more. Then it’s sent out to the SETI team at Berkeley and SETI@Home volunteers for analysis. The extra processing and storage capabilities are necessary because Breakthrough Listen will scan billions of radio channels between 1 and 10 gigahertz. Earlier surveys have been able to scan no more than a few hundred million channels at a time, with about half the spectral range. “We probably have a trillion times better capabilities today than when I started 40 years ago,” says Werthimer.

    That sensitivity should allow the telescopes to pick up intelligent signals not meant for us, something that couldn’t have been done before the Kepler mission provided astronomers with exoplanet locations. “There’s speculation that an advanced civilization might colonize another planet in its own solar system, like we might do with Mars,” says Werthimer. “They might send messages back and forth between planets, and we could pick up the signals when they line up with Earth.” In addition to the nearest million stars to Earth, the SETI group will monitor the densely packed center of the Milky Way galaxy, about 27,000 light-years away. “Our solar system is about five billion years old,” says Werthimer. “Some stars are 10 billion years old, so there could be some very advanced civilizations out there.” And finally, Breakthrough Listen will stretch its search out even farther, to 100 nearby galaxies where super-civilizations might be blasting messages between solar systems.

    SETI will tune into Planet -452b (concept opposite) and other exoplanets found by NASA’s Kepler. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)

    While the Green Bank Telescope searches in the northern hemisphere, Breakthrough Listen will use the Parkes Telescope near Sydney, Australia, to search the southern sky. The 210-foot movable dish is best known for transmitting most of the Apollo 11 moon landing video for the worldwide television broadcast (the event was fictionalized in the 2000 movie The Dish). The project will use about 20 percent of the observing time on each telescope, a jump from the few dozen cumulative hours SETI usually gets annually to thousands of hours.

    The third facility SETI is using will look instead of listen. The Automated Planet Finder, a 96-inch optical telescope at Lick Observatory, outside San Jose, California, will devote 10 percent of its time to searching for interstellar lasers.

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope
    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope

    “If we took our own highest-powered lasers and paired them with our largest telescopes, we could send a beam that would outshine the sun by a factor of 10 at a distance of 1,000 light-years,” says Siemion. “Perhaps other civilizations are doing that to contact other civilizations, or to transmit a large amount of information.” It would be the equivalent of a Galaxy Wide Web.

    The Parkes Observatory in Australia (opposite) is Breakthrough Listen’s outpost to eavesdrop on alien communication between star systems. (Daniel Sallai)

    Of course, not everyone is optimistic about the chances of Breakthrough Listen or any other SETI project finding evidence of neighboring civilizations, but not necessarily because they don’t believe in aliens. “Listening for intentional messages seems like a lost cause,” says Paul Davies, a researcher at Arizona State University and author of The Eerie Silence, a book that posits that current searches for intelligent life are flawed. “I’ve argued that we should be looking for other things: beacons, or probes, or alien artifacts in our own solar system. We have no idea how a super-civilization would manifest itself. It could be genetic—we could find signs in terrestrial biology…. There’s a good chance we might be alone in the universe. So we should search, but we shouldn’t spend a lot of money on it.”

    Even Werthimer doesn’t expect to hear from extraterrestrials anytime soon. “I’m optimistic in the long run,” he says. “We Earthlings are a young, emerging civilization. We’re just getting in the game, so a thorough search will take a while…. We probably won’t see anything in the next 10 years, so we’ll have to devise a new plan after that. Maybe, if the trend in computing power keeps going, we’ll find ET in 30 years.”

    In the meantime, let the eavesdropping begin.

    See the full article here.

    Prelude to the Breakthrough Project

    UC Santa Cruz
    From UCO Lick
    March 23, 2015

    Hilary Lebow

    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.

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

    “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.

    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)

    “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.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 12:57 pm on May 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Dr. Janice Bishop, SETI Institute,   

    From SETI: “SETI’s Dr. Janice Bishop Wins Award for Clay Science Research on Mars – Women in Science 

    SETI Institute



    Janice Bishop

    SETI Institute researcher Dr. Janice Bishop has been awarded the prestigious Jackson Mid-Career Clay Scientist Award for her work identifying clays on Mars. She will be giving an invited lecture at the 53rd Annual Clay Minerals Society meeting in Atlanta, GA, June 6th, 2016.

    “Clays are important minerals to identify on Mars because they tell us about the climate at the time of their formation,” says Janice. “The widespread detection of clays in ancient Martian outcrops indicates that liquid water was once present on Mars and that early conditions were much different than the cold and dry environment today.”

    Janice investigates clays on the Red Planet using the spectral fingerprints of these minerals collected by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

    CRISM collects data in the visible and near-infrared wavelength region that includes spectral features due to vibrations of molecules in the mineral structure. Janice has been analyzing spectra of terrestrial clay minerals in the lab for nearly 30 years in order to document the properties of these indicator minerals by spacecraft sent to Mars and other planets.

    Over the past decade since CRISM has been in orbit at Mars, Janice has been identifying clays and associated aqueous minerals in ancient rock outcrops that provide us information on potentially habitable sites on our neighboring planet.

    The Marion L. and Chrystie M. Jackson Mid-Career Clay Scientist Award is presented annually to a member of The Clay Minerals Society for the contribution of new knowledge of clay minerals science as represented by publication of scholarly and original research.

    Janice Bishop
    Senior Research Scientist
    Discipline: Planetary Geology, Spectroscopy, Mineralogy
    Dr. Janice Bishop is a chemist and planetary scientist who explores the planet Mars using spectroscopy. Her investigations of CRISM data of Mars are revealing clays and sulfates in the ancient rocks that provide information about the geochemical environment at the time the minerals formed. Dr. Bishop studies the spectral fingerprints of minerals and rocks in the lab in order to generate a spectral library for identification of these in the Martian data. Her research also involves collecting and studying Mars analog rocks and soils at a variety of locations including volcanic islands, cold deserts, hydrothermal regions, acidic aqueous sites, and meteorites which are the only Martian samples available on Earth to date.

    Another component of Dr. Bishop’s research is collecting spectra under Mars-like conditions. Spectra of many hydrated minerals change depending on the moisture level in the air and the amount of water molecules adsorbed on the surface or bound in the mineral structure. Understanding the spectral properties of mineral mixtures in the lab is also important for identifying minerals on Mars and Dr. Bishop’s group is preparing and characterizing the spectral properties of several mixture suites.


    Major Awards:

    2016- Jackson Award in Clay Science
    2015- Humboldt Visiting Scientist Award
    2013- Helmholtz International Fellow Award.
    2011- Public Service Group Achievement Award to the MRO CRISM Instrument Team for developing the highly capable CRISM instrument, significantly advancing our understanding of the Martian surface, its composition and evolution.
    2010- Characterization of “Water on Mars” by the MRO Team selected as one of Science Magazine’s Top Ten Insights of the Decade.
    2010- Featured Scientist, “A Day in the Life of an Astronomer” Astronomy Magazine, March issue.
    2009- Best Paper Award, IEEE Whispers conference “Hyperspectral Image and Signal Processing: Evolution in Remote Sensing” (co-author), Grenoble, France.
    2008- Kavli Fellow; invited to 18th Kavli Frontiers of Science Symposium, Irvine, CA.

    See the full article here .

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