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  • richardmitnick 12:27 pm on October 12, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , SETI   

    From ABC via SETI Institute: “Where is the search for extraterrestrial life up to?” 

    ABC News bloc

    ABC News

    10.11.16
    Mark Llewellyn

    1
    Photo: Scientists are stepping up their search to eavesdrop on ET. Facility not identified.

    Despite the headlines, no alleged signals from ET have ever been confirmed. Yet far from being put off their search, scientists are stepping it up.

    For decades scientists have been searching for evidence of life beyond Earth — intelligent or otherwise — using an array of methods.

    “If you are talking about life in the solar system, like life on Mars, or maybe Saturn’s moon Titan, or maybe one of Jupiter’s moons like Europa, then you just send a rocket and look for it,” said Seth Shostak, of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute in Mountain View, California.

    There could be microbial life in all of these places, Dr Shostak said, “but you have to look hard, probably underneath the surfaces of these planets and moons”.

    As for finding life around other stars, scientists have to use really big telescopes to scan distant planets for chemicals — like oxygen, methane and water vapour.

    The challenge is that these kinds of molecular tracers for life could also indicate geological events.

    Scientists are still trying to pin down the exact chemical signature that would really prove life and not just the existence of volcanoes, Dr Shostak said.

    Other chemicals like ammonia, carbon and amino acids could also be signs of life.

    Meanwhile, the SETI Institute and others are focusing on another technique: looking for potential communication signals from ET.

    “You just do what Jodie Foster did in the movie Contact and eavesdrop on radio signals,” Dr Shostak explained.

    Optical laser transmissions as well as narrow-band radio signals are possible signs of intelligent life out there.

    But again it is hard to be sure where a signal really comes from, especially when you can’t pick it up more than once.

    False alarms and hoaxes

    Take the recent report that the giant Russian RATAN-600 radio telescope had picked up a signal while scanning a star called HD164595, in the constellation Hercules, the year before.

    “I’ve no doubt the signal was there, but the question was: is it ET, or just some satellite that’s just wheeling overhead and producing some radio emission that they picked up?” Dr Shostak said.

    He used SETI’s Allen Telescope Array in northern California, to zoom in on the star system.

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

    “We didn’t find anything, the guys at the University of California Berkeley using their big telescope in West Virginia didn’t find anything. The Russians looked in this direction, I think 39 times, and only found this signal once,” Dr Shostak said.

    So, this looks very much like another false alarm — just like the claim last year that a giant alien engineering project had been set up on a planet orbiting a star called KIC 8462852.

    At least it wasn’t a hoax like the claim, by an amateur UK radio astronomer in 1998, that he had found radio signals coming from a system of two dwarf stars in the constellation Pegasus.

    The best candidate for an alien radio transmission remains the so-called WOW! signal, detected in 1977 by Ohio University’s Big Ear radio telescope, Dr Shostak said.

    Ohio State Big Ear Radio Telescope
    Ohio State Big Ear Radio Telescope

    The signal has not been heard again since so remains unconfirmed.

    Scientists step up the search

    Despite the lack of definitive evidence so far, the search for extraterrestrial life continues, and indeed scientists are stepping up the search.

    The European Space Agency’s ExoMars program is concentrating on Mars. An orbiter launched in March this year aims to examine the Martian atmosphere and a follow-up mission, featuring a rover vehicle, has a launch date of 2020.

    Looking outside our solar system is NASA’s Kepler space observatory, which lifted off in 2009. It has found thousands of planets, including dozens that could possibly support life.

    The number of planets has increased substantially over the past few years thanks to faster data processing.

    Meanwhile, the James Webb Space Telescope, planned for launch in 2018, will investigate the potential for extraterrestrial life by “sniffing” the atmospheric chemistry of Earth-like planets around other stars.

    Back on Earth, the world’s biggest single dish radio telescope, the 500-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), began operating in south-western China last month.

    FAST radio telescope located in the Dawodang depression in Pingtang county Guizhou Province, South China
    FAST radio telescope located in the Dawodang depression in Pingtang county Guizhou Province, South China

    Construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a giant multi radio telescope — made up of thousands of dishes and up to 1 million antennas — is also due to start in 2018.

    SKA Square Kilometer Array

    If it goes ahead, Australia will host more than 500 stations, each containing about 250 individual antennas.

    As part of a key science program, called Cradle of Life, SKA will focus on searching for carbon-containing chemicals in planetary atmospheres, while also trying to detect radio emissions from extraterrestrial civilisations.

    Parkes Observatory moves to centre stage

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

    Meanwhile, the biggest-ever search for intelligent alien life ramps up this month when Parkes Observatory joins Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia in the $100 million Breakthrough Listen initiative.

    GBO radio telescope, West Virginia, USA
    GBO radio telescope, West Virginia, USA

    The project picks up fainter radio signals and covers 10 times more sky than previous hunts for alien life.

    Data is being analysed by computers belonging to volunteers of the citizen science project SETI@home.

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

    About 10 million people around the world have downloaded the free SETI@home software.

    While some scientists are sceptical about finding life on other planets, Dr Shostak said it was only a matter of time.

    He plans to buy everyone he knows a flat white coffee if SETI doesn’t find ET “within the next two decades”.

    “I might be wrong about that, and I may have to buy a lot of flat whites, but that’s my estimate of how long it will take,” he said.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 3:44 pm on June 24, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , SETI, ,   

    From SPACE.com: “SETI Eavesdrops on Nearby Star in Smart Alien Hunt” 

    space-dot-com logo

    SPACE.com

    June 24, 2016
    Ian O’Neill

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

    Astronomers seeking out extraterrestrial intelligence have used a powerful radio telescope to eavesdrop on a star system that is relatively close to Earth in the hope of hearing the faint radio whisper of an alien civilization.

    Using the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) located in California (pictured top), members of the SETI Institute chose Trappist 1 as they know the red dwarf-type star plays host to at least 3 exoplanets.

    SETI Institute

    2
    Trappist 1 system. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

    Traditional SETI searches have looked to random stars in the sky in the hope of detecting an artificial radio signal using luck and some educated guesses. But now we know certain stars play host to exoplanets, alien hunters can be a little more discerning with the selection of stellar targets.

    Known as “targeted SETI”, the ATA has been used to “listen in” on star systems that NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope and other exoplanet-hunting missions have confirmed the presence of exoplanets.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    Even better than that, as Kepler can identify the physical size and orbit of a given exoplanet, astronomers can deduce whether that planet is located in the star’s “habitable zone.” The habitable zone around any star is the distance at which a hypothetical rocky planet can orbit that is not too hot or too cold for liquid water to exist. As we know from life on our planet, where there’s water, there’s life; could intelligent alien life be living on one of these potentially habitable worlds?

    Earth has been leaking a faint radio signals into space for over 100 years since the advent of commercial radio transmissions around the globe at the beginning of the 20th century. More recently, we’ve been pinging asteroids and the planets with powerful radar. And let’s not forget the controvercial Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or METI, a practice that has unsettled some scientists. Therefore, in theory, any intelligent aliens living within 100 light-years of Earth — assuming they possess sensitive enough radio receivers — could be aware of our presence.

    And this is what SETI is doing: listening out for alien transmissions that, so far, have proven inconclusive.

    However, last year, Kepler discovered a bizarre transit signal from the star KIC 8462852, otherwise known as Tabby’s Star. Kepler detects exoplanets by detecting their faint shadows cross the faces of their host stars. When Kepler detected Tabby’s Star transit, it was like nothing it had ever recorded; the brightness dip dimmed around 20 percent. Though the generally-accepted hypothesis is that a swarm of comets may have caused this strange transit signal, there’s another idea that it could be evidence of an advanced alien civilization building a “megastructure” around their star.

    Tabby’s Star quickly became a target for SETI, but no transmissions were detected by the ATA.

    According to a SETI Institute news release on Wednesday, even if there were transmitting aliens at Tabby’s Star, the fact it’s nearly 1,500 light-years away would make the detection of alien radio signals extremely unlikely, unless said aliens were deliberately beaming extremely powerful radio waves right at us.

    This is why Trappist 1 was selected for a follow-up SETI investigation. Though there’s no evidence of weird transit signals around this small star, it is an ancient compact planetary system that might, after some assumptions, be considered habitable. What’s more, Trappist 1 is only 40 light-years away — pretty much on our interstellar doorstep. Any signal transmitted from the Trappist 1 system would be athousand times stronger than a signal of identical strength transmitted from Tabby’s Star.

    So, for 2 days in May, the ATA focused on Trappist 1, seeking out an artificial narrowband signal of around 1 Hz or less. As the headline of this article isn’t “Aliens Found!” you can guess what the outcome was: no aliens were detected on this pass. But the ATA did put a valuable upper limit on the strength of a signal if there is a hypothetical alien civilization transmitting a signal at us.

    SETI researchers estimate that if aliens are transmitting from that star system, they’d have to build a 300 meter-wide radio antennae (the approximate size of the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico) with a transmitter power of 300 kilowatts. Interestingly, the most powerful radio transmitter on Earthoperates at around 700 kilowatts, so building a transmitter for interstellar messaging purposes is well within the realms of technological possibility.

    So this latest directed SETI campaign drew a blank, but it’s helping us probe regions of the radio frequency spectrum and the expected power output from a hypothetical alien civilization — valuable research if we are to detect and recognize a signal from extraterrestrials in the future.

    See the full article here .

    YOU CAN PARTICIPATE IN SETI FROM THE COMFORT OF YOUR EASY CHAIR.

    SETI@home
    SETI@home

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

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

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

    SETI@home is not a part of the SETI Institute

    The SET@home screensaver image
    SETI@home screensaver

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

    BOINC

    BOINC WallPaper

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  • richardmitnick 1:54 pm on September 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , SETI,   

    From Ethan Siegel: “Are we looking for ET all wrong?” 

    Starts with a bang
    Starts with a Bang

    9.12.15
    Ethan Siegel

    Is looking for radio transmissions in space like claiming the lack of smoke signals means there are no modern humans?

    “[W]hat Fermi immediately realized was that the aliens have had more than enough time to pepper the Galaxy with their presence. But looking around, he didn’t see any clear indication that they’re out and about. This prompted Fermi to ask what was (to him) an obvious question: ‘where is everybody?’” –

    SETI Seth Shostak

    Seth Shostak

    Our Ask Ethan series gives the opportunity for two great things to happen: one for you and one for me. You get the chance to send in your questions and suggestions for a chance to be featured here, and I get the opportunity to consider ideas that I never would have had on my own. This week’s honor goes to Jan Rolstad, who asks a brilliant question:

    Does searching for ET in the electro-magnetic spectrum make sense? Isn’t this search analogous to pre-technological tribal people trying to listen in on modern Western communications by searching for drum or smoke signals while the modern world is using cell phones and radio? It seems unlikely that a space faring civilization would bother communicating with itself across interstellar distances if limited by the speed of light and the many years required. Whose got the time?

    1
    Image credit: Rady Ananda, via http://www.globalresearch.ca/military-weather-modification-chemtrails-atmospheric-geoengineering-and-environmental-warfare/5356630

    This question, of course, is extraordinarily speculative, but gives us a chance to look at our own technological progress, and to consider how that might play out elsewhere in the Universe.

    2
    Image credit: public domain painting, original source unidentified, via http://tellmewhyfacts.com/Electricity-Benjamin-Franklin.

    The mechanism of electricity only began to be understood in the late 18th century, with the work of Ben Franklin. The power of electricity only began to be harnessed to run electric circuits and other powered devices during the 19th century, and the phenomena associated with classical electromagnetism only became understood through the latter half of that century. The first transmissions of electromagnetic signals for communication didn’t take place until 1895, and the power of radio broadcasts to extend far out into interplanetary and interstellar space wasn’t achieved until the 1930s.

    3
    Image credit: Zidbits, via http://zidbits.com/2011/07/how-far-have-radio-signals-traveled-from-earth/.

    The speed of light [in a vacuum] is quite a limiting thing as well: if our radio signals have been traveling through interstellar space for 80 years, that means that only civilizations within 80 light years of us would have had an opportunity to receive those signals, and that only civilizations within forty light years would have had the opportunity to receive those signals and send something back to us that we would’ve received by now. If the Fermi Paradox is the question of “where is everyone,” the answer is, “not within 40 light years of us,” which doesn’t tell us very much about intelligent life in the Universe at all.

    13
    A graphical representation of the Arecibo message – Humanity’s first attempt to use radio waves to actively communicate its existence to alien civilizations

    While there might be hundreds of billions of stars within our galaxy alone, and at least 200 billion galaxies in the observable Universe, there are less than 1000 stars within 40 light years of Earth.

    4
    Image credit: ©2015 Bruce MacEvoy, via http://www.handprint.com/ASTRO/bineye5.html.

    And to make matters worse, electromagnetic signals going out from Earth into interstellar space are decreasing, not increasing. Television and radio broadcasts are increasingly being run through cables or via satellite, not from transmission towers here on Earth. By time another century passes, it’s very likely that the signals we sent out (and hence, began looking for) during the 20th century will cease to be emitted from Earth altogether. Perhaps an alien civilization, making note of these observations when the signals do arrive, would draw the conclusion that this blue, watery planet orbiting our star in the great distance actually achieved intelligent, technologically advance life for a short while, and then wiped ourselves out as the signals gradually stopped.

    Of course, this isn’t the case at all. Perhaps a better conclusion is the one implicit in Jan’s question: maybe looking for electromagnetic signals is wrongheaded altogether.

    5
    Image credit: Alamy, via http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/dec/28/2014-internet-comes-of-age-cybercrime.

    If we were to look at Earth from a nearby distance in visible light, there would be no doubts about the fact of whether or not it’s inhabited: the great glow of cities at night is unmistakably a sign of our activity. Yet this light pollution is relatively new, and is something we’re finally learning how to manage and control if we put the effort (i.e., time, money, manpower and resources) into it. There’s no reason not to be optimistic that by the end of the 21st or 22nd centuries, the Earth at night will look no different than it did for billions of years: dark, except for the occasional aurora, lightning storm or erupting volcano.

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    Image credit: Wendy Worrall Redal, via http://goodnature.nathab.com/northern-lights-natures-winter-magic/.

    But if we weren’t looking for electromagnetic signals, what would we look at? Indeed, everything in the known Universe is limited by the speed of light, and any signal created on another world would necessitate that we be able to observe it. These signals — in terms of what could reach us — fall into four categories:

    1.Electromagnetic signals, which include any form of light of any wavelength that would indicate the presence of intelligent life.
    2.Gravitational wave signals, which, if there is one unique to intelligent life, would be detectable with sensitive enough equipment anywhere in the Universe.
    3.Neutrino signals, which — although incredibly low in flux at great distances — would have an unmistakeable signature dependent on the reaction that created them.
    4.And finally, actual, macroscopic space probes, either robotic, computerized, free-floating or inhabited, which made its way towards Earth.

    How remarkable that our science-fiction imaginations focus almost exclusively on the fourth possibility, which is by far the least likely!

    7
    Image credit: Metro Goldwyn Mayer.

    When you think about the vast distances between the stars, how many stars there are with potentially habitable planets (or potentially habitable moons), and how much it takes, in terms of resources, to physically send a space probe from one planet around one star to another planet around another star, it seems literally crazy to consider that method to be a good plan.

    Far more likely, you’d think, it would be smart to build the right type of detector, to survey all the various regions of the sky, and seek out the signals that could unambiguously show us the presence of intelligent life.

    8
    Image credit: Insolation of Earth, via UC Santa Barbara, at http://www.geog.ucsb.edu/ideas/Insolation.html.

    In the electromagnetic spectrum, we know what our living world does in response to the seasons. With winters and summers, there are seasonal (and hence, orbital) changes in what electromagnetic signals our planet emits. As the seasons change, so do the colors on various parts of our planet. With a large enough telescope (or array of telescopes), perhaps the individual signs of our civilization could be seen: cities, satellites, airplanes and more.

    But perhaps the best thing we could look for is alterations of the natural environment, consistent with something that only an intelligent civilization would create.

    9
    Image credit: Message to Eagle, via http://www.messagetoeagle.com/extraterrestrialcivilizations.php#.VfNh8WTBzGc.

    We haven’t yet done these things, but perhaps large-scale modifications of a planet would be the exact thing we should be looking for, and should be the large-scale projects we’d aspire towards. Remember, any civilization that we find is unlikely to be in their technological infancy like we are. If they survive it and thrive through it, we’ll likely encounter them in a state tens or hundreds of thousands of years more advanced than we are. (And if that doesn’t boggle your mind, consider how much more advanced we are than we were just a few hundred years ago!)

    But this brings up two other possibilities, too.

    10
    Image credit: ESA / NASA and the LISA collaboration.

    Perhaps — as our gravitational wave technology becomes set to detect the first signals from the Universe — we’ll discover that there are subtle effects that lend themselves to detection across the cosmos. Perhaps there’s something to be said for a world with tens of thousands of satellites orbiting it, something unique that a gravitational wave detector could spot? We haven’t worked it out in great detail because this field is in its infancy and not yet developed to the point where it could detect such a small signal.

    But these signals don’t degrade the way electromagnetic ones do, nor is there anything that shields them. Perhaps this new branch of astronomy will be the way to go, hundreds of years from now. But my money’s on the third options, if you want an out-of-the-box thought.

    11
    Image credit: Reactor nuclear experimental RA-6 (Republica Argentina 6), en marcha, Centro Atomico Bariloche, via Pieck Darío.

    What’s likely to be the power source for a sufficiently advanced civilization? I submit to you that it’s nuclear power, most likely fusion power, and most likely a specific type of fusion that’s proven to be efficient, abundant, different from what occurs in the cores of stars, and that emits a very, very specific neutrino (or antineutrino) signature as a by-product.

    And those neutrinos should come with a very specific, explicit energy signature, one that isn’t produced by any natural process.

    12
    Image credit: IceCube collaboration / NSF / University of Wisconsin, via https://icecube.wisc.edu/masterclass/neutrinos. Note the unique signal of “reactor anti-neutrinos.”

    If we can predict what that signature is, understand it, build a detector for it and measure it, we can find a fusion-powered civilization anywhere, and not have to worry about whether they’re broadcasting or not. So long as they’re making power, we can find them.

    This isn’t to say I have the final answer to Jan’s question; this is speculation (albeit scientifically well-informed speculation) concerning what we’re likely to find out there in the Universe. We may, at present, be looking for the cosmic equivalent of smoke signals in a cellphone-filled world, but we likely won’t be for long. As our technology continues to advance, our knowledge of what to look for will advance along with it. And perhaps someday — perhaps even someday soon — the Universe may have the most pleasant surprise of all in store for us: the news that we aren’t alone, after all.

    See the full article here .

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    Starts With A Bang! is a blog/video blog about cosmology, physics, astronomy, and anything else I find interesting enough to write about. I am a firm believer that the highest good in life is learning, and the greatest evil is willful ignorance. The goal of everything on this site is to help inform you about our world, how we came to be here, and to understand how it all works. As I write these pages for you, I hope to not only explain to you what we know, think, and believe, but how we know it, and why we draw the conclusions we do. It is my hope that you find this interesting, informative, and accessible.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:39 am on July 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Breakthrough Message, SETI   

    From The Guardian: “Making contact with alien worlds could make us care more about our own” 

    The Guardian Logo

    The Guardian

    Sunday 26 July 2015
    Ann Druyan

    Temp 1
    Nebulosity in Cygnus: ‘We will not send a message until a global debate has taken place.’ Photograph: Alan Dyer/Stocktrek Images/Corbis

    The scientific search for extraterrestrial civilisations has languished for more than a decade, as the hunt for habitable planets and simpler forms of life has thrived. Nasa’s stunningly successful Kepler mission has discovered a thousand new worlds orbiting other stars.

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler

    Astrobiology is a burgeoning field. But the search for intelligent life, begun in 1960 by astronomer Frank Drake, somehow fell off the funding radar.

    That changed this past week at a press conference at London’s Royal Society, with the announcement by entrepreneur Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking of Milner’s $100m, 10-year Breakthrough Listen Initiative. Utilising two of the world’s most powerful radio telescopes, Breakthrough Listen will survey the million closest stars and hundred closest galaxies, 10 times more sky than ever before. Milner’s commitment will also support the broadest search for optical laser transmissions ever mounted. The project leadership includes astronomer royal Martin Rees, Geoff Marcy, discoverer of some 70 extra-solar planets and Pete Worden, former director of the Nasa Ames Research Centre.

    I was at the press conference in my capacity as co-chair, with Frank Drake, of Breakthrough Message, an open global competition with $1m in prizes. It invites entrants to create messages to form a digital portrait of life on Earth. Although there is no immediate plan to broadcast these messages into space.

    Frank and I have collaborated on this kind of thing before. In 1977, we worked with Carl Sagan and others to create the Voyager interstellar message, the golden phonograph records affixed to Nasa’s Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft.

    NASA Voyager 1
    NASA/Voyager1

    Our message consisted of greetings in 55 human languages, and the salutations of humpback whales, as well as 118 images, 27 pieces from the world’s great musical traditions and an essay written in sound that tells the story of our planet from its earliest formation, through the evolution of life and development of technology up to the present. We also sought to convey something about the joy of being alive. It included the first words of a mother to her new-born baby, a kiss and the brain waves of a young woman in love.

    Temp 1
    Nasa’s Golden Record, sent on Voyager 1 and 2. Photograph: AP

    The Voyager spacecraft were destined to venture further than anything our hands had ever touched, exiting our solar system for the ocean of interstellar space. Our golden records have a shelf-life of a billion years. We undertook this work with a profound appreciation of the honour of creating a kind of Noah’s Ark of human culture. This was during the period when our long-term prospects for survival as a species were shadowed by the ever-ratcheting nuclear arms race. We agonised over whether to portray our species accurately, with its hunger and violence, or to only send the best of us. In the end, we opted for the studio portrait rather than the candid, afraid that images of cruelty or deprivation would be open to misinterpretation.

    Space is mostly empty, so the chance of either spacecraft encountering another world is virtually nil. Our message will only be received in the event that an alien craft finds a derelict Voyager and examines its contents.

    The Voyager Golden Record is a message in a bottle tossed in the cosmic ocean with long odds of being found and understood. That seems harmless enough, but a concerted attempt to send a message via radio telescope raises fears of existential danger. Human advanced technology is so recently acquired that any spacefaring civilisation would, most likely, be far ahead of us. Hawking has said he doesn’t know anything about the extraterrestrials, but he knows about us. If our own history is any guide, he warns, first contact with a technologically superior civilisation would be disastrous.

    Temp 1
    Ann Druyan with Geoff Marcy in London on 20 July for the the Breakthrough Initiatives press conference. Photograph: Stuart C Wilson

    We respect that view and pledge not to send our message until a global debate has taken place. Still, I cannot help but wonder if we can assume that the extraterrestrials will have made technological leaps but somehow remained as politically and emotionally stunted as we are today. Perhaps they will have succeeded in finding ways to conquer their tendencies toward greed and violence, their shortsightedness – just as so many of us struggle to do here on Earth. Could a deeper familiarity with the vast emptiness foster a greater respect for the preciousness and ancient continuity of life?

    Whether we decide to transmit our message or not, the act of conceptualising it can be transformative. Every gesture of recognition that we share a planetary civilisation takes us closer to maturity. We can’t think about how we might present ourselves to the beings of another world without seeing this one anew. And that is what is called for if we are to awaken from our stupor and act to protect it.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 2:15 pm on July 20, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , SETI,   

    From UCO: “Automated Planet Finder at Lick Observatory Joins Massive Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe” 

    UC Santa Cruz

    UC Santa Cruz

    July 20, 2015
    Hilary Lebow
    831-459-3455
    lebow@ucolick.org

    1
    Venus appears bright in the sky just behind the 2.4-meter Automated Planet Finder dome at Lick Observatory. Fully robotic and equipped with a high-resolution spectrograph optimized for precision Doppler measurements, the APF telescope enables off-site astronomers to detect rocky planets of Earth-size masses within our local galactic neighborhood. Photo by Laurie Hatch.

    Today investor Yuri Milner and physicist Stephen Hawking announced a $100 Million Breakthrough Prize Initiative to dramatically reinvigorate the search for intelligent life in the universe over the next ten years.

    This is the biggest scientific search yet for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth. Lick Observatory’s Automated Planet Finder (APF) Telescope above San Jose, California, will undertake a new deep and broad search for optical laser transmissions from nearby civilizations, if any exist.

    The APF is the newest telescope at Lick Observatory. It consists of a 2.4-meter automated telescope and enclosure, and the high-resolution Levy spectrograph. It operates robotically on every clear night of the year; its main emphasis to date has been on discovering and characterizing extrasolar planets.

    With this new Breakthrough Prize Initiative, the APF telescope and its Levy spectrometer will search 1,000 nearby stars and 100 nearby galaxies for visible-light laser emission from technological sources. Lasers may be used by other civilizations for communication between their home planet and satellites, interplanetary spacecraft, or colonies on other worlds.

    Such laser emissions will be distinguished from the emission from astronomical objects by the extreme single-wavelength nature of laser emission, and by the unresolved point source (a dot in the sky) from which the emission originates. It may even be that the Milky Way contains a galactic internet of laser emission. If so, the APF may be able to eavesdrop on their transmissions.

    “As part of the Breakthrough Prize Initiative, the APF telescope will undertake the most extensive search for optical laser transmissions in history,” said Claire Max, Interim Director of UC Observatories. It is a tremendous honor to participate in a project of this size and scope.”

    The initiative was announced today (July 20) at The Royal Society in London. The Breakthrough Prize Foundation is also contracting with two of the world’s largest radio telescopes for the search– the 100-meter Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope [GBT] in West Virginia and the 64-meter Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia.

    NRAO GBT
    NRAO GBT

    CSIRO Parkes Observatory
    CSIRO Parkes Observatory

    “We’ve learned a lot in the last fifty years about how to look for signals from space. With the Breakthrough Initiatives, the learning curve is likely to bend up-ward significantly,” said Frank Drake, SETI pioneer and UCSC Professor Emeritus in Astronomy and Astrophysics. “Right now there could be messages from the stars flying right through the room, through us all. That still sends a shiver down my spine. The search for intelligent life is a great adventure.”

    The overall program will include a survey of the 1,000,000 closest stars to Earth. It will scan the center of our galaxy and the galactic plane. Beyond the Milky Way galaxy, telescopes will listen for messages from the 100 closest galaxies.

    “We learned from the NASA Kepler mission that our Milky Way Galaxy contains tens of billions of Earth-size planets at lukewarm temperatures, any of which might harbor life,” said Geoff Marcy, Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at UC Berkeley.

    Other project leaders include Dan Wertheimer (SETI), Andrew Siemion (Berkeley SETI Research Center), Lord Martin Rees (University of Cambridge), Pete Worden (Breakthrough Prize Foundation) and Ann Druyan (Cosmos Studios).

    Lick Observatory is located on the summit of Mt. Hamilton in the Diablo Range east of San Jose, CA. Founded in 1888, Lick Observatory is a forefront astronomical research facility operated by the UC Observatories (UCO), a multicampus research unit that serves eight University of California campuses and is headquartered at UC Santa Cruz.

    2
    Inside the dome of the Automated Planet Finder at Lick Observatory.Photo by Laurie Hatch.

    See the full article here.

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

     
  • richardmitnick 5:21 am on March 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , SETI, ,   

    From UCSD: “Search for extraterrestrial intelligence extends to new realms” 

    UC San Diego bloc

    UC San Diego

    March 19, 2015
    Susan Brown

    1
    The NIROSETI team with their new infrared detector inside the dome at Lick Observatory. Left to right: Remington Stone, Dan Wertheimer, Jérome Maire, Shelley Wright, Patrick Dorval and Richard Treffers. Photos by © Laurie Hatch [at the UCO Lick Nickel One meter telescope on which NIROSETI is installed]

    New instrument will scan the sky for pulses of infrared light

    Astronomers have expanded the search for extraterrestrial intelligence into a new realm with detectors tuned to infrared light. Their new instrument has just begun to scour the sky for messages from other worlds.

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

    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 greater distances. It also takes less energy to send the same amount of information using infrared signals than it would with visible light.

    The idea dates back decades, Wright pointed out. Charles Townes, the late UC Berkeley scientist whose contributions to the development of lasers led to a Nobel Prize, suggested the idea in a paper published in 1961.

    Scientists have searched the heavens for radio signals for more than 50 years and expanded their search to the optical realm more than a decade ago. But instruments capable of capturing pulses of infrared light have only recently become available.

    2
    Shelley Wright holds a fiber tht emits infrared light for calibration of the detectors.

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

    Three years ago while at the Dunlap Institute, Wright purchased newly available detectors and tested them to see if they worked well enough to deploy to a telescope. She found that they did. Jérome Maire, a Fellow at the Dunlap, “turned the screws,” Wright said, playing a key role in the hands-on effort to develop the new instrument, called NIROSETI for near-infrared optical SETI.

    NIROSETI will also gather more information than previous optical detectors by recording levels of light over time so that patterns can be analyzed to for potential signs of other civilizations, a record that could be revisited as new ideas about what signals extraterrestrials might send emerge.

    Because infrared light penetrates farther through gas and dust than visible light, this new search will extend to stars thousands rather than merely hundreds of light years away. And the success of the Kepler Mission, which has found habitable planets orbiting stars both like and unlike our own, has prompted the new search to look for signals from a wider variety of stars.

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    Kepler

    NIROSETI has been installed at the University of California’s Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton east of San Jose and saw first light on March 15.

    3
    Skies cleared for a successful first night for NIROSETI at Lick Observatory. The ghost image is Shelley Wright, pausing for a moment during this long exposure as the rest of her team continued to test the new instrument inside the dome.

    Lick Observatory has been the site of several previous SETI searches including an instrument to look in the optical realm, which Wright built as an undergraduate student at UC Santa Cruz under the direction of Remington Stone, the director of operations at Lick at that time. Dan Werthimer* and Richard Treffers of UC Berkeley designed that first optical instrument. All three are playing critical roles in the new search.

    NIROSETI could uncover new information about the physical universe as well. “This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales,” Werthimer said. “The instrument could discover new astrophysical phenomena, or perhaps answer the question of whether we are alone.”

    4
    Patrick Dorval, Jérome Maire and Shelley Wright in the control room of the Nickel 1-meter telescope at Lick Observatory, where their new instrument has been deployed.

    The group also includes SETI pioneer Frank Drake of the SETI Institute and UC Santa Cruz who serves as a senior advisor to both past and future projects and is an active observer at the telescope.

    Drake pointed out several additional advantages to a search in this new 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.” he said. The receivers are also much more affordable that those used on radio telescopes.

    “There is only one downside: the extraterrestrials would need to be transmitting their signals in our direction,” Drake said, though he sees 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.”

    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. Shelley Wright is also a member of the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences at UC San Diego. Richard Treffers is now at Starman Systems. Funding for the project comes from the generous support of Bill and Susan Bloomfield.

    See the full article here.
    [The owner of this blog is a small financial supporter of UCO Lick, SETI Institute, UC Santa Cruz where UCO is managed, and SETI@home, which caused him to spend an inordinate amount of time on this post. I hope it gets read by a lot of people.

    *Dan Werthimer is co-founder and chief scientist of the SETI@home project and directs other UC Berkeley SETI searches at radio, infrared and visible wavelengths, including the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Radio Emissions from Nearby Developed Intelligent Populations (SERENDIP). He is also the principal investigator for the worldwide Collaboration for Astronomy Signal Processing and Electronics Research (CASPER). SETI@home runs on software developed by BOINC at UC Berkeley.

    SETI@home screensaver

    6
    Dan Werthimer

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    UC San Diego Campus

    The University of California, San Diego (also referred to as UC San Diego or UCSD), is a public research university located in the La Jolla area of San Diego, California, in the United States.[12] The university occupies 2,141 acres (866 ha) near the coast of the Pacific Ocean with the main campus resting on approximately 1,152 acres (466 ha).[13] Established in 1960 near the pre-existing Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego is the seventh oldest of the 10 University of California campuses and offers over 200 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, enrolling about 22,700 undergraduate and 6,300 graduate students. UC San Diego is one of America’s Public Ivy universities, which recognizes top public research universities in the United States. UC San Diego was ranked 8th among public universities and 37th among all universities in the United States, and rated the 18th Top World University by U.S. News & World Report ‘s 2015 rankings.

     
  • richardmitnick 2:11 pm on March 20, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , SETI   

    From physicsworld.com: “Have alien civilizations built cosmic accelerators from black holes?” 

    physicsworld
    physicsworld.com

    Mar 19, 2015
    Hamish Johnston

    1
    Cosmic collider: could an advanced civilization harness a black hole

    Has an advanced alien civilization built a black-hole-powered particle accelerator to study physics at “Planck-scale” energies? And if such a cosmic collider is lurking in a corner of the universe, could we detect it here on Earth?

    Brian Lacki of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey, has done calculations that suggest that if such an accelerator exists, it would produce yotta electron-volt (YeV or 1024 eV) neutrinos that could be detected here on Earth. As a result, Lacki is calling on astronomers involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) to look for these ultra-high-energy particles. This is supported by SETI expert Paul Davies of Arizona State University, who believes that the search should be expanded beyond the traditional telescope searches.

    Like humanity, it seems reasonable to assume that an advanced alien civilization would have a keen interest in physics, and would build particle accelerators that reach increasingly higher energies. This energy escalation could be the result of the “nightmare scenario” of particle physics in which there is no new physics at energies between the TeV energies of the Standard Model and the 1028 eV Planck energy (10 XeV) – where the quantum effects of gravity become strong. “The nightmare of particle physics is the dream of astronomers searching for extraterrestrials,” says Lacki.

    An important problem facing alien physicists would be that the density of electromagnetic energy needed to reach the Planck scale is so great that the device would be in danger of collapsing into a black hole of its own making. However, Lacki points out that a clever designer could, in principle, get round this problem and “reaching [the] Planck energy is technically allowed, if extremely difficult”.

    Not surprisingly, such an accelerator would have to be rather large. Lacki believes that if electric fields are used for acceleration, the device would have to be at least 10 times the radius of the Sun. However, a magnetic synchrotron-type accelerator could be somewhat smaller. As for what materials could be used to make the accelerator, Lacki says that normal materials could not withstand the strong electromagnetic fields. Indeed, one of the few places where such a high energy density could exist is in the vicinity of a black hole, which he argues could be harnessed to create a Planck-scale accelerator.

    “Vast amounts of pollution”

    Colliding particles at tens of XeVs is only half the battle, however. Lacki calculates that the vast majority of collisions in such a cosmic collider would be of no interest to alien researchers. To get useful information about Planck-scale physics, he reckons that the total collision rate in the accelerator would have to be about 1024 times that of the Large Hadron Collider. “As such, accelerators built to detect Planck events are extremely wasteful and produce vast amounts of ‘pollution’,” explains Lacki.

    While much of this pollution would be extremely high-energy particles, that in principle could reach Earth, it is unclear whether they could escape the intense electromagnetic fields within the collider. Furthermore, like colliders here on Earth, the builders of a cosmic machine would probably try to shield the surrounding region from damaging radiation. Indeed, Lacki’s analysis suggests that neutrinos are the only particles that are likely to reach Earth.

    These neutrinos would have energies that are a billion or more times greater than the highest energy neutrinos ever detected here on Earth. However, unlike their lower-energy counterparts, these accelerator neutrinos would be much easier to detect because they interact much more strongly with matter. Lacki calculates that the majority of such neutrinos passing through the Earth’s oceans will deposit their energy in the form of a shower of secondary particles. While the oceans are far too murky for physicists to detect the light given off by the showers, Lacki reckons that the sound of a shower could be detected by a network of hydrophones in the water. However, because these neutrinos are expected to be extremely rare, he calculates that about 100,000 hydrophones would be needed to have a chance of detecting the neutrinos.

    Whole of the Moon

    Another possibility, albeit less sensitive, is to use the Moon as a neutrino detector. Indeed, the NuMoon experiment is currently using a ground-based radio telescope to try to detect showers created when 1020 eV neutrinos smash into the lunar surface.

    While the detection of YeV neutrinos would not be proof that an alien accelerator exists – some theories suggest that they could be produced naturally by the decay of a cosmic strings – Lacki says that spotting such high-energy particles would be an important breakthrough in physics.

    While Davies is keen to expand SETI, he does identify one important drawback of looking for cosmic colliders. “My main problem is that once the [alien] experiments are done, there would be no need to keep the thing running, so unless there are mega-machines like this popping up all over the place, there would be only transient pulses,” he told physicsworld.com.

    Davies believes that it is very difficult for humans today to understand why an advanced civilization would want to build a Planck-scale collider. “Why do it? Perhaps to create a baby universe or some other exotic space–time sculpture,” he speculates. “Why do that? Perhaps because this hypothetical civilization feels it faces a threat of cosmic dimensions. What might that threat be? I have no idea! However, a civilization that knows a million times more than humanity might perceive all sorts of threats of which we are blissfully unaware.”

    Lacki’s calculations are described in a preprint on arXiv.

    See the full article here.

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    We engage with policymakers and the general public to develop awareness and understanding of the value of physics and, through IOP Publishing, we are world leaders in professional scientific communications.
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  • richardmitnick 7:33 pm on March 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , SETI,   

    From Space.com: “The Father of SETI: Q&A with Astronomer Frank Drake” 

    space-dot-com logo

    SPACE.com

    February 26, 2015
    Leonard David

    Arecibo Observatory

    Detecting signals from intelligent aliens is a lifelong quest of noted astronomer Frank Drake. He conducted the first modern search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) experiment in 1960. More than five decades later, the hunt remains front-and-center for the scientist.

    5
    Frank Drake

    Drake also devised a thought experiment in 1961 to identify specific factors believed to play a role in the development of civilizations in our galaxy. This experiment took the form of an equation that researchers have used to estimate the possible number of alien civilizations — the famous Drake Equation.

    The Drake equation is:

    N = R*. fp. ne. fl. fi. fc. L

    where:

    N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which radio-communication might be possible (i.e. which are on our current past light cone);

    and

    R* = the average rate of star formation in our galaxy
    fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets
    ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
    fl = the fraction of planets that could support life that actually develop life at some point
    fi = the fraction of planets with life that actually go on to develop intelligent life (civilizations)
    fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
    L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space

    Drake constructed the “Arecibo Message” of 1974 — the first interstellar message transmitted via radio waves from Earth for the benefit of any extraterrestrial civilization that may be listening.

    The message consists of seven parts that encode the following (from the top down):[4]

    The numbers one (1) to ten (10)
    The atomic numbers of the elements hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and phosphorus, which make up deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)
    The formulas for the sugars and bases in the nucleotides of DNA
    The number of nucleotides in DNA, and a graphic of the double helix structure of DNA
    A graphic figure of a human, the dimension (physical height) of an average man, and the human population of Earth
    A graphic of the Solar System indicating which of the planets the message is coming from
    A graphic of the Arecibo radio telescope and the dimension (the physical diameter) of the transmitting antenna dish

    3
    This is the message with color added to highlight its separate parts. The actual binary transmission carried no color information.

    Space.com caught up with Drake to discuss the current state of SETI during an exclusive interview at the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) 2015 symposium, which was held here from Jan. 27 to Jan. 29.

    Drake serves on the NASA NIAC External Council and is chairman emeritus of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. and director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe.

    Space.com: What’s your view today concerning the status of SETI?

    Frank Drake: The situation with SETI is not good. The enterprise is falling apart for lack of funding. While NASA talks about “Are we alone?” as a number one question, they are putting zero money into searching for intelligent life. There’s a big disconnect there.

    We’re on the precipice. The other thing is that there are actually negative events on the horizon that are being considered.

    Space.com: And those are?

    Drake: There are two instruments, really the powerful ones for answering the “are we alone” question … the Arecibo telescope[above] and the Green Bank Telescope [GBT].

    NRAO GBT
    GBT

    They are the world’s two largest radio telescopes, and both of them are in jeopardy. There are movements afoot to close them down … dismantle them. They are both under the National Science Foundation and they are desperate to cut down the amount of money they are putting into them. And their choice is to just shut them down or to find some arrangement where somebody else steps in and provides funding.

    So this is the worst moment for SETI. And if they really pull the rug out from under the Green Bank Telescope and Arecibo … it’s suicide.

    Space.com: What happens if they close those down?

    Drake: We’re all then sitting in our living rooms and watching science fiction movies.

    Space.com: How about the international scene?

    Drake: The international scene has gone down too because all the relevant countries are cash-strapped also.

    There is a major effort in China, a 500-meter [1,640 feet] aperture spherical radio telescope. The entire reflector is under computer control with actuators. They change the shape of the reflector depending on what direction they are trying to look. The technology is very complicated and challenging. The Russians tried it and it never worked right. But … there are serious resources there.

    Space.com: Why isn’t SETI lively and bouncing along fine given all the detections?

    Drake: You would think. All those planetary detections are the greatest motivator to do SETI that we ever had. But it hasn’t had any impact, at least yet.

    Space.com: How do you reconcile the fact that exoplanet discoveries are on the upswing, yet mum’s the word from ET?

    Drake: People say that all the time … saying that you’ve been searching for years and now you’ve searched thousands of stars and found nothing. Why don’t you just give up … isn’t that the sensible thing?

    There’s a good answer to all that. Use the well-know equation and put in the parameters as we know them. A reasonable lifetime of civilizations is like 10,000 years, which is actually much more than we can justify with our own experience. It works out one in every 10 million stars will have a detectable signal. That’s the actual number. That means, to have a good chance to succeed, you have to look at a million stars at least — and not for 10 minutes — for at least days because the signal may vary in intensity. We haven’t come close to doing that. We just haven’t searched enough.

    Space.com: What are we learning about habitable zones?

    Drake: Actually the case is very much stronger for a huge abundance of life. The story seems to be that almost every star has a planetary system … and also the definition of “habitable zone” has expanded. In our system, it used to be that only Mars and Earth were potentially habitable. Now we’ve got an ocean on Europa … Titan.

    The habitable zone goes out. A habitable zone is not governed just by how far you are from the star, but what your atmosphere is. If you’ve got a lot of atmosphere, you’ve got a greenhouse effect. And that means the planet can be much farther out and be habitable.

    6
    “Radio waving” to extraterrestrials. Outward bound broadcasting from Earth has announced humanity’s technological status to other starfolk, if they are out there listening.
    Credit: Abstruse Goose

    Space.com: What is your view on the debate regarding active SETI — purposely broadcasting signals to extraterrestrials?

    Drake: There is controversy. I’m very against sending, by the way. I think it’s crazy because we’re sending all the time. We have a huge leak rate. It has been going on for years. There is benefit in eavesdropping, and you would have learned everything you can learn through successful SETI searches. There’s all kinds of reasons why sending makes no sense.

    7
    Frank Drake, center, with his colleagues, Optical SETI (OSETI) Principal Investigator Shelley Wright and Rem Stone with the 40-inch Nickel telescope at Lick Observatory in California. Outfitted with the OSETI instrument, the silver rectangular instrument package protrudes from the bottom of the telescope, plus computers, etc.
    Credit: Laurie Hatch Photography

    That reminds me of something else. We have learned, in fact, that gravitational lensing works. If they [aliens] use their star as a gravitational lens, they get this free, gigantic, super-Arecibo free of charge. They are not only picking up our radio signals, but they have been seeing the bonfires of the ancient Egyptians. They can probably tell us more about ourselves than we know … they’ve been watching all these years.

    Space.com: Can you discuss the new optical SETI efforts that you are involved with? You want to search for very brief bursts of optical light possibly sent our way by an extraterrestrial civilization to indicate their presence to us.

    Drake: It’s alive and well. We’ve gotten a couple of people who are actually giving major gifts. There’s no funding problem. There is a new instrument that has been built, and it’s going to be installed at the Lick Observatory [in California] in early March.

    The whole thing is designed to look for laser flashes. The assumption is — and this is where it gets to be tenuous — the extraterrestrials are doing us a favor. It does depend on extraterrestrials helping you by targeting you. These stellar beams are so narrow that you’ve got to know the geometry of the solar system that you’re pointing it at. They want to communicate. They have to be intent on an intentional signal specifically aimed at us. That’s a big order. So there are required actions on the part of the extraterrestrials for this to work. The big plus is that it’s cheap and relatively easy to do.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 9:01 am on February 8, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , SETI,   

    From Space.com: “How Would the World Change If We Found Alien Life?” 

    space-dot-com logo

    SPACE.com

    February 06, 2015
    Elizabeth Howell

    1
    If contact with extraterrestrial life is made through radio telescopes, a decipherment process may have to take place to understand the message.
    Credit: NASA

    In 1938, Orson Welles narrated a radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” as a series of simulated radio bulletins of what was happening in real time as Martians arrived on our home planet. The broadcast is widely remembered for creating public panic, although to what extent is hotly debated today.

    Still, the incident serves as an illustration of what could happen when the first life beyond Earth is discovered. While scientists might be excited by the prospect, introducing the public, politicians and interest groups to the idea could take some time.

    How extraterrestrial life would change our world view is a research interest of Steven Dick, who just completed a term as the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair of Astrobiology. The chair is jointly sponsored by the NASA Astrobiology Program and the John W. Kluge Center, at the Library of Congress.

    Dick is a former astronomer and historian at the United States Naval Observatory, a past chief historian for NASA, and has published several books concerning the discovery of life beyond Earth. To Dick, even the discovery of microbes would be a profound shift for science.

    “If we found microbes, it would have an effect on science, especially biology, by universalizing biology,” he said. “We only have one case of biology on Earth. It’s all related. It’s all DNA-based. If we found an independent example on Mars or Europa, we have a chance of forming a universal biology.”

    Dick points out that even the possibilities of extraterrestrial fossils could change our viewpoints, such as the ongoing discussion of ALH84001, a Martian meteorite found in Antarctica that erupted into public consciousness in 1996 after a Science article said structures inside of it could be linked to biological activity. The conclusion, which is still debated today, led to congressional hearings.

    2
    Photo of the martian meteorite ALH84001. Dull, dark fusion crust covers about 80% of the sample

    “I’ve done a book about discovery in astronomy, and it’s an extended process,” Dick pointed out. “It’s not like you point your telescope and say, ‘Oh, I made a discovery.’ It’s always an extended process: You have to detect something, you have to interpret it, and it takes a long time to understand it. As for extraterrestrial life, the Mars rock showed it could take an extended period of years to understand it.”

    Mayan decipherments

    In his year at the Library of Congress, Dick spent time searching for historical examples (as well as historical analogies) of how humanity might deal with first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. History shows that contact with new cultures can go in vastly different directions.

    Hernan Cortes’ treatment of the Aztecs is often cited as an example of how wrong first contact can go. But there were other efforts that were a little more mutually beneficial, although the outcomes were never perfect. Fur traders in Canada in the 1800s worked closely with Native Americans, for example, and the Chinese treasure fleet of the 15th Century successfully brought its home culture far beyond its borders, perhaps even to East Africa.

    Even when both sides were trying hard to make communication work, there were barriers, noted Dick.

    “The Jesuits had contact with Native Americans,” he pointed out. “Certain concepts were difficult, like when they tried to get across the ideas of the soul and immortality.”

    Indirect contact by way of radio communications through the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), also illustrates the challenges of transmitting information across cultures. There is historical precedence for this, such as when Greek knowledge passed west through Arab translators in the 12th Century. This shows that it is possible for ideas to be revived, even from dead cultures, he said.

    Allen Telescope Array
    SETI’s Institute’s Allen Telescope Array

    SETI@home screensaver
    SETI@home project

    Arecibo Observatory
    Arecibo Observatory. used by SETI@home

    “There will be a decipherment process. It might be more like the Mayan decipherments,” Dick said.

    The ethics of contact

    As Dick came to a greater understanding about the potential cultural impact of extraterrestrial intelligence, he invited other scholars to present their findings along with him. Dick chaired a two-day NASA/Library of Congress Astrobiology Symposium called “Preparing for Discovery,” which was intended to address the impact of finding any kind of life beyond Earth, whether microbial or some kind of intelligent, multicellular life form.

    The symposium participants discussed how to move beyond human-centered views of defining life, how to understand the philosophical and theological problems a discovery would bring, and how to help the public understand the implications of a discovery.

    “There is also the question of what I call astro-ethics,” Dick said. “How do you treat alien life? How do you treat it differently, ranging from microbes to intelligence? So we had a philosopher at our symposium talking about the moral status of non-human organisms, talking in relation to animals on Earth and what their status is in relation to us.”

    Dick plans to collect the lectures in a book for publication next year, but he also spent his time at the library gathering materials for a second book about how discovering life beyond Earth will revolutionize our thinking.

    “It’s very farsighted for NASA to fund a position like this,” Dick added. “They have all their programs in astrobiology, they fund the scientists, but here they fund somebody to think about what the implications might be. It’s a good idea to do this, to foresee what might happen before it occurs.”

    It’s also quite possible that the language we receive across these indirect communications would be foreign to us. Even though mathematics is often cited as a universal language, Dick said there are actually two schools of thought. One theory is that there is, indeed, one kind of mathematics that is based on a Platonic idea, and the other theory is that mathematics is a construction of the culture that you are in.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 7:16 pm on November 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , SETI   

    From BBC: “Are we sending aliens the right messages?” 

    BBC

    BBC

    12 November 2014
    Tracey Logan

    Despite decades of sending sounds and pictures into space no aliens have responded. Have we been doing it wrong? Tracey Logan investigates, and discovers some novel attempts to make contact – including the smells of our planet.

    ball
    NASA

    For decades we’ve been sending signals – both deliberate and accidental – into space, and listening out for alien civilisations’ broadcasts. But what is the plan if one day we were to hear something?

    Artist Carrie Paterson has long dreamed of beaming messages far out to the emptiness of space. Except her messages would have an extra dimension – smell.

    By broadcasting formulae of aromatic chemicals, she says, aliens could reconstruct all sorts of whiffs that help to define life on Earth: animal blood and faeces, sweet floral and citrus scents or benzene to show our global dependence on the car. This way intelligent life forms on distant planets who may not see or hear as we do, says Paterson, could explore us through smell, one of the most primitive and ubiquitous senses of all.

    ari
    It is nearly 40 years since the Arecibo facility sent messages out into space

    Her idea is only the latest in a list of attempts to hail intelligent life outside of the Solar System. Forty years ago this month, the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico sent an iconic picture message into space – and we’ve arguably been broadcasting to aliens ever since we invented TV and radio.

    However in recent years, astronomers, artists, linguists and anthropologists have been converging on the idea that creating comprehensible messages for aliens is much harder than it seems. This week, Paterson and others discussed the difficulties of talking to our cosmic neighbours at a conference called Communicating Across the Cosmos, held by SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). It seems our traditional ways of communicating through pictures and language may well be unintelligible – or worse, be catastrophically misconstrued. So how should we be talking to ET?

    Lost in translation?

    We have always wanted to send messages about humanity beyond the planet. According to Albert Harrison, a space psychologist and author of Starstruck: Cosmic Visions in Science, Religion and Folklore, the first serious designs for contacting alien life appeared two centuries ago, though they never got off the ground.

    In the 1800s, mathematician Carl Gauss proposed cutting down lines of trees in a densely forested area and replanting the strips with wheat or rye, Harrison wrote in his book. “The contrasting colours would form a giant triangle and three squares known as a Pythagoras figure which could be seen from the Moon or even Mars.” Not long after, the astronomer Joseph von Littrow proposed creating huge water-filled channels topped with kerosene. “Igniting them at night showed geometric patterns such as triangles that Martians would interpret as a sign of intelligence, not nature.”

    cars
    Odours needn’t be pleasant – the smell of gasoline, for instance, could hint at our reliance on fossil fuels (Getty Images)

    But in the 20th Century, we began to broadcast in earnest. The message sent by Arecibo hoped to make first contact on its 21,000 year journey to the edge of the Milky Way. The sketches it contained, made from just 1,679 digital bits, look cute to us today, very much of the ‘Pong’ video game generation. Just before then, NASA’s Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes each carried a metal calling card bolted onto their frame with symbols and drawings on the plaque, showing a naked man and woman.

    NASA Pioneer 10
    NASA/Pioneer 10

    Yet it’s possible that these kinds of message may turn out to be incomprehensible to aliens; they might find it as cryptic as we find Stone Age etchings.

    Antique tech

    “Linear drawings of a male and a female homo sapiens are legible to contemporary humans,” says Marek Kultys, a London-based science communications designer. ”But the interceptors of Pioneer 10 could well assume we are made of several separate body parts (i.e. faces, hair and the man’s chest drawn as a separate closed shapes) and our body surface is home for long worm-like beings (the single lines defining knees, abdomens or collarbones.).”

    Man-made tech may also be an issue. The most basic requirement for understanding Voyager’s Golden Record, launched 35 years ago and now way out beyond Pluto, is a record player. Aliens able to play it at 16 and 2/3 revolutions a minute will hear audio greetings in 55 world languages, including a message of ‘Peace and Friendship’ from former United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim. But how many Earthlings today have record players, let alone extraterrestrials?

    spa
    Our sights and sounds of Earth might be unintelligible to an alien audience (NASA, Pioneer)

    What if the aliens we’re trying to talk to are utterly different from us, physically and mentally? What if alien life is like the type encountered in Stanislav Lem’s Solaris, for instance, where a planet is surrounded by an intelligent ocean. The ocean itself is the alien being, a disembodied mind.

    “Supposing an “alienish” speaking human wished to explain the whole concept of sexual reproduction to a homogenous sentient ocean, would there be any chance for the human to become understood?” says Kultys. “Sharing the same context is essential for comprehension.”

    Time capsule

    Inevitably such messages become outdated too, like time capsules. Consider the case of the Oglethorpe Atlanta Crypt of Civilization – a time capsule sealed on Earth in 1940, complete with a dry martini and a poster of Gone With the Wind. It was intended as a snapshot of 20th Century life for future humans, not aliens, but like an intergalactic message, may only give a limited picture to future generations. When, in 61,000 years, the Oglethorpe time capsule is opened, would Gone With The Wind have stood the test of time?

    Oglethorpe Atlanta
    Oglethorpe Atlanta Crypt of Civilization interior

    two
    This message was taken into the stars by Pioneer – but we have no idea if aliens would be able to understand it (Nasa)

    Kultys argues that all these factors should be taken into account when we calculate the likelihood of communicating with intelligent life. The astronomer Frank Drake’s famous equation de allows anyone to calculate how many alien species are, based on likely values of seven different factors. At a UK Royal Society meeting in 2010 Drake estimated there are roughly 10,000 detectable civilisations in the galaxy. Yet Kultys points out that we should also factor in how many aliens are using the same channel of communications as us, are as willing to contact us as we are them, whose language we hope to learn, and who are physically similar to us.

    Another barrier we might consider is the long distance nature of trans-cosmos communication. It means that many years ‒ even a thousand ‒ could pass between sending a message and receiving a reply. Paterson sees romance in that. “Our hope for communication with another intelligent civilisation has a melancholic aspect to it. We are on an island in a vast, dark space. Imagine if communication… became like an exchange of perfumed love letters with the quiet agony of expectation… Will we meet? Will we be as the other imagined? Will the other be able to understand us?”

    Ready for an answer?

    Anthropologist John Traphagan of the University of Texas in Austin has been asking the same question, though his view is more cautious. “When it comes to ET, you’ll get a signal of some kind; not much information and very long periods between ‘Hi, how are you?’ and whatever comes back. We may just shrug our shoulders and say ‘This is boring’, and soon forget about it or, if the time lag wasn’t too long, we might use the minimal information we get from our slow-speed conversation to invent what we think they’re like and invent a kind concept of what they’re after.”

    scene
    The aliens in Independence Day (1996) did not come in peace (20th Century Fox)

    While we have been sending out messages, we have not been preparing the planet for what happens when we get an interstellar return call. First contact could cause global panic. We might assume those answering are bent on galactic domination or, perhaps less likely, that they are peaceful when in fact they’re nasty.

    Consider how easy it is to mess up human-to-human communications; I got Traphagan’s first name wrong when I e-mailed him for this article. An apology within minutes cleared up the confusion, yet if he had been an alien anthropologist on some distant planet it would have taken much longer to fix. He later confessed: “I could have thought this is a snooty English journalist and our conversation might never have happened.”

    Even if Earth’s interstellar messaging committees weeded out the typos, cultural gaffes are always a possibility. These can only be avoided by understanding the alien’s culture – something that’s not easy to do, especially when you’ve never met those you’re communicating with.

    Rosy picture

    So, what is the best way to communicate? This is still up for grabs – perhaps it’s via smell, or some other technique we haven’t discovered yet. Clearly, creating a message that is timeless, free of cultural bias and universally comprehensible would be no mean feat.

    But for starters, being honest about who we are is important if we want to have an extra-terrestrial dialogue lasting centuries, says Douglas Vakoch, director of interstellar message composition at Seti. (Otherwise, intelligent civilisations who’ve decoded our radio and TV signals might smell a rat.)

    disc
    The golden discs aboard the Voyager spacecraft require aliens to understand how to play a record (NASA)

    “Let’s not try to hide our shortcomings,” says Vakoch. “The message we should send to another world is straightforward: We are a young civilisation, in the throes of our technological adolescence. We’re facing a lot of problems here on Earth, and we’re not even sure that we’ll be around as a species when their reply comes in. But in spite of all of these challenges, we humans also have hope – especially hope in ourselves.”

    Voyager’s Golden Record paints a rosy picture of humanity. It doesn’t mention our wars or famines, Earth’s pollution or nuclear explosions. According to Traphagan, any aliens who came to Earth on the basis of that would say: “Hey, I thought this was a really nice place but they’ve polluted the crap out of it.”

    Yet ultimately what matters, says Paterson, is that they stop and consider the beings who sent them a message; the people who wanted to say: “Here are some important things. Here’s our DNA, here is some maths and universal physics. And here is our longing and desire to say “I’m like you, but I’m different.”

    See the full article here.

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