Tagged: SETI@home Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • richardmitnick 7:13 am on October 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , SETI@home,   

    From New Scientist: “We still haven’t heard from aliens – here’s why we might never” 

    NewScientist

    New Scientist

    26 April 2017 [Where did this come from? Just found in social media.]
    Leah Crane

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

    THE most ambitious search so far for extraterrestrial intelligence has released its first data – and there are no aliens yet. The lack of success could be explained by the result of a new approach to calculating the likelihood of detecting alien signals. This calculation suggests we might never make contact, even if extraterrestrial life is common.

    The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) has been active for decades.

    Drake Equation, Frank Drake, Seti Institute

    SETI Institute

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

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

    Breakthrough Listen aims to be the largest, most comprehensive search ever. [Using only three telescopes? There are a lot more available.]

    1

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



    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA


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

    The $100 million initiative uses three of the world’s most sensitive telescopes to look for alien signals from the 1 million closest stars to Earth and the 100 closest galaxies.

    “It’s like finding a needle in a haystack,” says Seth Shostak at the SETI Institute in California. “But we don’t know how many needles are there.”

    Breakthrough Listen team members have analysed the light from 692 stars so far. They have found 11 potential alien signals, none of which remained promising after further analysis.

    “It’s the beginning of a very exciting time,” says Avi Loeb at Harvard University. “But while it’s exciting, it’s still very risky. We could find nothing.”

    That’s exactly what an assessment by Claudio Grimaldi at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne predicts.

    Most methods for calculating the likelihood of detecting alien signals start with an expected number of sources. Instead, Grimaldi started with what volume of the galaxy could be reached by alien signals, a value that requires fewer assumptions about the nature and abundance of extraterrestrial life.

    Grimaldi assumed that signals from an extraterrestrial emitter might get weaker or be blocked as they travel, so they would only cover a certain volume of space. It’s relatively simple to calculate the probability that Earth is within that space and so able to detect the signal. “Not all signals can be visible at the same time – only those that intersect with the Earth,” says Grimaldi.

    He found that even if half of our galaxy was full of alien noise, the average number of signals that we would be able to detect from Earth is less than one (Scientific Reports, doi.org/b562).

    This implies that, even if there are lots of aliens out there, we might never be able to hear from them. But some researchers take umbrage: Grimaldi’s method still requires you to plug in numbers for how far alien signals could be detectable and how long they last – neither of which is known.

    “You have to make some assumptions about what the aliens are doing in all these calculations, unfortunately, and the data set that we have with alien activity is fairly sparse,” says Shostak. Our only example of intelligent life is on Earth, and there’s little reason to expect that ET resembles us.

    But, says Loeb, extraterrestrial signals should be no harder to find than other astronomical events.

    “The question of whether you can detect a signal has nothing to do with whether it’s artificial or natural, and astronomers routinely detect lots of kinds of signals,” he says.

    “In SETI, theory is great, but observation is the gold standard,” says Douglas Vakoch, president of METI International, which aims to send messages to extraterrestrial intelligence.

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

    It’s not difficult to think up a different signal that we would be able to detect, he says.

    For example, if there were alien life at the TRAPPIST-1 planets, just 40 light years away, they wouldn’t need particularly advanced technology to contact us.

    A size comparison of the planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system, lined up in order of increasing distance from their host star. The planetary surfaces are portrayed with an artist’s impression of their potential surface features, including water, ice, and atmospheres. NASA

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

    It seems implausible that we would miss their call.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Advertisements
     
  • richardmitnick 7:43 am on October 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Contact, , , , NIROSETI-Near-Infrared Optical SETI instrument at Lick, , , SETI@home   

    From Nautilus: “Why We’ll Have Evidence of Aliens—If They Exist—By 2035” 

    Nautilus

    Nautilus

    Oct 04, 2017

    SETI astronomer Seth Shostak


    Seth Shostak

    SETI Institute

    1
    The search for alien technology is about to get much more efficient. No image credit.

    I’ve bet a cup of coffee to any and all that by 2035 we’ll have evidence of E.T. To many of my colleagues, that sounds like a losing proposition. For more than a half-century, a small coterie of scientists has been pursuing the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI. And we haven’t found a thing.

    I’m optimistic by nature—as a scientist, you have to be. But my hopeful feeling is not wishful thinking; it is firmly grounded in the logic of SETI.

    Half a century sounds like a long time, but the search is truly in its early days. Given the current state of SETI efforts and abilities, I feel that we’re on the cusp of learning something truly revolutionary.

    Most of our experiments so far have used large radio antennas in an effort to eavesdrop on radio signals transmitted by other societies, an approach that was dramatized by Jodie Foster in the 1997 movie Contact.

    NAIC/Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, USA

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

    2
    Anybody out there: Jodie Foster as Ellie Arroway in the 1997 movie Contact, which was based on the bestseller by Carl Sagan. Getty Images

    Unlike other alien potboilers, Contact’s portrayal of how we might search for extraterrestrials was reasonably accurate. Nonetheless, that film reinforced the common belief that SETI practitioners paw through cosmic static looking for unusual patterns, such as a string of prime numbers. The truth is simpler: We have been searching for narrow-band signals. “Narrow-band” means that a large fraction of the transmitter power is squeezed into a tiny part of the radio dial, making the transmission easier to find. This is analogous to the way a laser pointer, despite having only a few milliwatts of power, nonetheless looks bright because the energy is concentrated into a narrow wavelength range.

    A modern SETI receiver simultaneously examines tens or even hundreds of millions of channels, each having a cramped 1-hertz bandwidth. That bandwidth is 5 million times narrower than a TV signal and lacks the capacity to carry information—a message. But the idea is to first discover aliens that are on the air, after which a far larger instrument would be built to dig out any modulation.

    To aim our antennas, SETI has traditionally used two approaches. One is to scan as much of the sky as possible; the other is to zero in on nearby star systems. You might think that the former would have an edge, since it makes no assumptions about where the aliens might be hanging out. But a sky survey spends most of its time looking at empty space. If you subscribe to the conventional view that extraterrestrials will most likely be ensconced on planets or moons, then it’s better to devote precious telescope time to examining nearby star systems.

    One current targeted search is the SETI Institute’s red dwarf survey, which takes place at the Allen Telescope Array, an ensemble of 42 antennas hunkered down in the California Cascades.

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

    We are going down a list of 20,000 small stars that are prime candidates for hosting habitable planets. These ruddy runts are both numerous and, on average, old. Most have been around for billions of years, the time it took life on Earth to evolve from microscopic slime to high-tech hominids. Astronomers estimate that roughly one-half of all red dwarfs might have a rocky world in the habitable zone, where temperatures would abide liquid water.

    The SETI Institute is not the only band of alien hunters. Buoyed by a large infusion of money from the Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, the SETI group at the University of California, Berkeley, is renting time on the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Parkes Radio Telescope in the sheep country west of Sydney, Australia. Their decade-long project, known as Breakthrough Listen, also homes in on individual star systems.

    Breakthrough Listen Project

    1

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



    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    While these efforts are broadly similar to what’s been done for decades, they are not your daddy’s SETI. The rapid growth in digital processing means that far larger swaths of the radio dial can be examined at one go and—in the case of the Allen array—many star systems can be checked out simultaneously. The array now examines three stars at once, but additional computer power could boost that to more than 100. Within two decades, SETI experiments will be able to complete a reconnaissance of 1 million star systems, which is hundreds of times more than have been carefully examined so far. SETI practitioners from Frank Drake to Carl Sagan have estimated that the galaxy currently houses somewhere between 10,000 and a few million broadcasting societies.

    Carl Sagan

    Frank Drake

    Drake Equation, Frank Drake, Seti Institute

    If these estimates are right, then examining 1 million star systems could well lead to a discovery. So, if the premise of SETI has merit, we should find a broadcast from E.T. within a generation. That would spare me the expense of buying you a cup of coffee.

    Furthermore, scientists have been diversifying. For two decades, some SETI researchers have used conventional optical telescopes to look for extremely brief laser flashes coming from the stars. In many ways, aliens might be more likely to communicate by pulsed light than radio signals, for the same reason that people are turning to fiber optics for Internet access: It can, at least in principle, send 100,000 times as many bits per second as radio can. These so-called optical SETI experiments have been limited to looking at one star system at a time. But like their radio cousins, they’re poised to become speedier as new technology allows them to survey ever-wider tracts of sky.

    4
    NEUTRINOS IN THE ICE: The IceCube neutrino observatory in Antarctica has been searching for energetic cosmic neutrinos, which some astronomers have proposed—probably quixotically—as a medium for extraterrestrial communications.NSF/B. Gudbjartsson

    Physicists have also proposed wholly new modes of communications, such as neutrinos and gravitational waves. Some of my SETI colleagues have mulled these options, but we don’t see much merit in them at the moment. Both neutrinos and gravitational waves are inherently hard to create and detect. In nature, it takes the collapse of a star or the merger of black holes to produce them in any quantity. The total energy required to send “Hello, Earth” would be daunting, even for a civilization that could command the resources of a galaxy.

    IceCube, the University of Wisconsin’s big neutrino detector in Antarctica, is sensitive only to very high-energy particles, which are precisely those that would be costliest to produce.


    U Wisconsin ICECUBE neutrino detector at the South Pole

    In all the years it has been operating, the instrument has detected a total of a few dozen of these particles, even though it is a cubic kilometer in size. As for gravitational waves, the Laser Interferometric Gravitational-Wave Observatory has been able to detect colliding black holes over the final second of their infall.


    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

    Gravitational waves. Credit: MPI for Gravitational Physics/W.Benger-Zib

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    1
    Skymap showing how adding Virgo to LIGO helps in reducing the size of the source-likely region in the sky. (Credit: Giuseppe Greco (Virgo Urbino group)

    It is hard to imagine that aliens would go to the trouble of smashing together two huge black holes for a second’s worth of signal.

    But there is a completely different approach that has yet to be explored in much detail: to look for artifacts—engineering projects of an advanced society. Some astronomers have suggested an alien megastructure, possibly an energy-collecting Dyson sphere, as the explanation for the mysterious dimming of Tabby’s star (officially known as KIC 8462852). It is a serious possibility, but no evidence has yet been found to support it.

    6
    This artist’s concept shows a swarm of comets passing before a star. NASA / JPL-Caltech

    It’s also conceivable that extraterrestrials could have left time capsules in our own solar system, perhaps millions or billions of years ago, on the assumption that our planet might eventually evolve a species able to find them. The Lagrange points in the Earth-moon system—locations where the gravity of Earth, moon, and sun are balanced, so that an object placed there will stay there—have been suggested as good hunting grounds for alien artifacts, as has the moon itself.

    LaGrange Points map. NASA

    Another idea is that we should search for the high-energy exhausts of interstellar rockets. The fastest spacecraft would presumably use the most efficient fuel: matter combining with antimatter. Their destructive “combustion” would not only shoot the craft through space at a fair fraction of the speed of light, but would produce a gamma-ray exhaust, which we might detect. Rockets could be sorted out from natural gamma ray sources by their relatively quick motion across the sky.

    The appealing thing about artifacts is that finding them is not time-critical. In contrast, to search for signals, you need to activate your instruments at the right time. It doesn’t help to look for radio pings, laser flashes, or neutrino bursts if E.T. reached out to touch us during the reign of the dinosaurs or will do so a hundred million years from now. Artifacts have no such synchronicity problem. That said, looking for artifacts has its own bummer factors. Anything beyond our solar system would need be truly huge to be visible; cousins of the starship Enterprise would be very difficult to find.

    SETI is not a traditional science problem in which a hypothesis can be falsified. We can never prove that the aliens are not out there, only that they are. But our ability to search improves with every technological innovation. I compare the situation to the year 1491. European civilization had been around for 2,500 years, yet the Americas were not on any map. Mesoamerican civilization, for its part, had been around for about as long, but also was ignorant of what lay over the oceans. With a glimpse and a shout from a sailor on the Pinta, everything changed.

    [No mention of Laser SETI, the latest attempt from The SETI Institute.

    Laser SETI

    Seth Shostak is the senior astronomer at the SETI Institute. He chaired the International Academy of Astronautics’s SETI Permanent Study Group for a decade and hosts the SETI Institute’s weekly hour-long science radio show, “Big Picture Science.” He is the co-author of a textbook on astrobiology and of Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Follow him on Twitter @SethShostak.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Welcome to Nautilus. We are delighted you joined us. We are here to tell you about science and its endless connections to our lives. Each month we choose a single topic. And each Thursday we publish a new chapter on that topic online. Each issue combines the sciences, culture and philosophy into a single story told by the world’s leading thinkers and writers. We follow the story wherever it leads us. Read our essays, investigative reports, and blogs. Fiction, too. Take in our games, videos, and graphic stories. Stop in for a minute, or an hour. Nautilus lets science spill over its usual borders. We are science, connected.

     
  • richardmitnick 5:30 pm on June 28, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , SETI@home, Video trip to GBO   

    From SETI@home: “A 3D tour of the Green Bank Telescope” Video 

    SETI@home
    SETI@home

    Jun 13, 2017

    A fabulous trip to the GBO


    Watch, enjoy, learn

    See the full article here.
    If you are attached to the SETI@home project, visit here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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.

    My BOINC

     
  • richardmitnick 8:43 pm on May 31, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , SETI@home   

    From SETI@home: “Jodrell Bank to partner with Breakthrough Initiatives” 

    SETI@home
    SETI@home

    At Berkeley SETI Research Center, we’ve long been friends and collaborators with Professor Michael Garrett and the team at Jodrell Bank. We’re delighted to continue our collaboration as the Breakthrough Initiatives announce a formal partnership with Jodrell in the search for intelligent life beyond Earth: https://breakthroughinitiatives.org/News/11

    Although this partnership doesn’t involve data from telescopes at Jodrell flowing to SETI@home (at least at the present time), the sharing of data, algorithms, and strategies will benefit the science programs at Berkeley and Jodrell, as well as at other telescopes involved in Breakthrough Listen and in SETI in general. You can seen an interview with Mike, recorded a few weeks back, at https://youtu.be/ZRMiuCFACCw, and take a 3D tour of the Lovell telescope and control room at Jodrell at https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=B8UZb1joxsG.

    For more news from Berkeley SETI, follow us on social media:
    http://facebook.com/BerkeleySETI

    http://youtube.com/BerkeleySETI

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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.

    My BOINC

     
  • richardmitnick 4:14 pm on May 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , SETI@home,   

    From The Atlantic via SETI@home: “A Brief History of SETI@Home” 

    SETI@home
    SETI@home

    The Atlantic

    1
    Frank Drake, (Left) president of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) reviews data from radiotelescopes used to scan the universe for intelligent life.

    How astronomers deputized early internet users to help find alien civilizations.

    The year was 1999, and the people were going online. AOL, Compuserve, mp3.com, and AltaVista loaded bit by bit after dial-up chirps, on screens across the world. Watching the internet extend its reach, a small group of scientists thought a more extensive digital leap was in order, one that encompassed the galaxy itself. And so it was that before the new millennium dawned, researchers at the University of California released a citizen-science program called SETI@Home.

    The idea went like this: When internet-farers abandoned their computers long enough that a screen saver popped up, that saver wouldn’t be WordArt bouncing around, 3-D neon-metallic pipes installing themselves inch by inch, or a self-satisfied flying Windows logo. No. Their screens would be saved by displays of data analysis, showing which and how much data from elsewhere their CPUs were churning through during down-time. The data would come from observations of distant stars, conducted by astronomers searching for evidence of an extraterrestrial intelligence. Each participating computer would dig through SETI data for suspicious signals, possibly containing a “Hello, World” or two from aliens. Anyone with 28 kbps could be the person to discover another civilization.

    When the researchers launched SETI@Home, in May of ’99, they thought maybe 1,000 people might sign up. That number—and the bleaker view from outsiders, who said perhaps no one would join the crew—informed a poor decision: to set up a single desktop to farm out the data and take back the analysis.

    But the problem was, people really liked the idea of letting their computers find aliens while they did nothing except not touch the mouse. And for SETI@Home’s launch, a million people signed up. Of course, the lone data-serving desktop staggered. SETI@Home fell down as soon as it started walking. Luckily, now-defunct Sun Microsystems donated computers to help the program get back on its feet. In the years since, more than 4 million people have tried SETI@Home. Together, they make up a collective computing power that exceeds 2008’s premier supercomputer.

    But they have yet to find any aliens.

    SETI is a middle-aged science, with 57 years under its sagging belt. It began in 1960, when an astronomer named Frank Drake used an 85-foot radio telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia, to scan two Sun-like stars for signs of intelligent life—radio emissions the systems couldn’t produce on their own, like the thin-frequency broadcasts of our radio stations, or blips that repeated in a purposeful-looking way.

    Green Bank today



    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

    Since then, scientists and engineers have used radio and optical telescopes to search much more of the sky—for those “narrowband” broadcasts, for fast pings, for long drones, for patterns distinguishing themselves from the chaotic background static and natural signals from stars and supernovae.

    But the hardest part about SETI is that scientists don’t know where ET may live, or how ET’s civilization might choose to communicate. And so they have to look for a rainbow of possible missives from other solar systems, all of which move and spin at their own special-snowflake speeds through the universe. There’s only one way to do that, says Dan Werthimer, the chief SETI scientist at Berkeley and a co-founder of SETI@Home: “We need a lot of computing power.”

    In the 1970s, when Werthimer’s Berkeley colleagues launched a SETI project called SERENDIP, they sucked power from all the computers in their building, then the neighboring building. In a way, it was a SETI@Home prototype. In the decades that followed, they turned to supercomputers. And then, they came for your CPUs.

    The idea for SETI@Home originated at a cocktail party in Seattle, when computer scientist David Gedye asked a friend what it might take to excite the public about science. Could computers somehow do something similar to what the Apollo program had done? Gedye dreamed up the idea of “volunteer computing,” in which people gave up their hard drives for the greater good when those drives were idle, much like people give up their idle cars, for periods of time, to Turo (if Turo didn’t make money and also served the greater good). What might people volunteer to help with? His mind wandered to The X-Files, UFOs, hit headlines fronting the National Enquirer. People were so interested in all that. “It’s a slightly misguided interest, but still,” says David Anderson, Gedye’s graduate-school advisor at Berkeley. Interest is interest is interest, misguided or guided perfectly.

    But Gedye wasn’t a SETI guy—he was a computer guy—so he didn’t know if or how a citizen-computing project would work. He got in touch with astronomer Woody Sullivan, who worked at the University of Washington in Seattle. Sullivan turned him over to Werthimer. And Gedye looped in Anderson. They had a quorum, of sorts.

    Anderson, who worked in industry at the time, dedicated evenings to writing software that could take data from the Arecibo radio telescope, mother-bird it into digestible bits, send it to your desktop, command it to hunt for aliens, and then send the results back to the Berkeley home base. No small task.

    They raised some money—notably, $50,000 from the Planetary Society and $10,000 from a Paul Allen-backed company. But most of the work-hours, like the computer-hours they were soliciting, were volunteer labor. Out of necessity, they did hire a few people with operating-system expertise, to deal with the wonky screensaver behavior of both Windows and Macintosh. “It’s difficult trying to develop a program that’s intended to run on every computer in the world,” says Anderson.

    __________________________________________________________________
    Today, you can use BOINC to serve up your computer’s free time to develop malaria drugs, cancer drugs, HIV drugs.

    __________________________________________________________________

    And yet, by May 17, 1999, they were up, and soon after, they were running. And those million people in this world were looking for not-people on other worlds.

    One morning, early in the new millennium, the team came into the office and surveyed the record of what those million had done so far. In the previous 24 hours, the volunteers had done what would have taken a single desktop one thousand years to do. “Suppose you’re a scientist, and you have some idea, and it’s going to take 1,000 years,” says Anderson. “You’re going to discard it. But we did it.”

    After being noses-down to their keyboards since the start, it was their first feeling of triumph. “It was really a battle for survival,” says Anderson. “We didn’t really have time to look up and realize what an amazing thing we were doing.”

    Then, when they looked up again, at the SETI@Home forums, they saw something else: “It was probably less than a year after we started that we started getting notices about the weddings of people who met through SETI@Home,” says Eric Korpela, a SETI@Home project scientist and astronomer at Berkeley.

    The SETI astronomers began to collect more and different types of data, from the likes of the Arecibo radio telescope. Operating systems evolved. There were new signal types to search for, like pulses so rapid they would have seemed like notes held at pianissimo to previous processors. With all that change, they needed to update the software frequently. But they couldn’t put out a new version every few months and expect people to download it.

    Anderson wanted to create a self-updating infrastructure that would solve that problem—and be flexible enough that other, non-SETI projects could bring their work onboard and benefit from distributed computing. And so BOINC—Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing—was born.

    Today, you can use BOINC to serve up your computer’s free time to develop malaria drugs, cancer drugs, HIV drugs. You can fold proteins or help predict the climate. You can search for gravitational waves or run simulations of the heart’s electrical activity, or any of 30 projects. And you can now run BOINC on GPUs—graphical processing units, brought to you by gamers—and on Android smartphones Nearly half a million people use the infrastructure now, making the système totale a 19 petaflop supercomputer, the third-largest megacalculator on the planet.

    Home computers have gotten about 100 times faster since 1999, thank God, and on the data distribution side, Berkeley has gotten about 10 times faster. They’re adding BOINC as a bandwidth-increasing option to the Texas Advanced Computing Center and nanoHUB, and also letting people sign up for volunteer computing, tell the system what they think are the most important scientific goals, and then have their computers be automatically matched to projects as those projects need time. It’s like OkCupid dating, for scientific research. BOINC, and SETI@Home can do more work than ever.

    The thing is, though, they’ve already done a lot of work—so much work they can’t keep up with themselves. Sitting in a database are 7 billion possible alien signals that citizen scientists and their idle computers have already uncovered.

    Most of these are probably human-made interference: short-circuiting electric fences, airport radar, XM satellite radio, or a microwave opened a second too soon. Others are likely random noise that added up to a masquerade of significance. As Anderson says, “Random noise has the property that whatever you’re looking for, it eventually occurs. If you generate random letters. You eventually get the complete works of Shakespeare.” Or the emissions are just miscategorized natural signals.

    Anderson has been working on a program called Nebula that will trawl that billions-and-billions-strong database, reject the interference, and upvote the best candidates that might—just might—be actual alien signals. Four thousand computers at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Germany help him narrow down the digital location of that holiest of grails. Once something alien in appearance pops up—say from around the star Vega—the software automatically searches the rest of the data. It finds all the other times, in the 18 years of SETI@Home history, that Arecibo or the recently added telescopes from a $100 milion initiative called Breakthrough Listen have looked at Vega. Was the signal there then too? “We’re kind of hoping that the aliens are sending a constant beacon,” says Korpela, “and that every time a telescope passes over a point in the sky, we see it.”

    If no old data exists—or if the old data is particularly promising—the researchers request new telescope time and ask SETI colleagues to verify the signal with their own telescopes, to see if they can intercept that beacon, that siren, that unequivocal statement of what SETI scientists and SETI@Home participants hope is true: That we are not alone.

    So far, that’s a no-go. “We’ve never had a candidate so exciting that we call the director and say, ‘Throw everybody off the telescope,’” says Werthimer. “We’ve never had anything that resembles ET.”

    And partly for that reason, the SETI@Homers are now working on detecting “wideband” signals—ones that come at a spread spectrum of frequencies, like the beam-downs from DIRECTV. Humans (and by extension, extraterrestrials) can embed more information more efficiently in these spread-spectrum emissions. If the goal is to disseminate information, rather than just graffiti “We’re here!” on the fabric of spacetime, wideband is the way to go. And SETI scientists’ thinking goes like this: We’ve been looking mostly for purposeful, obvious transmissions, ones wrapped neatly for us. But we haven’t found any—which might mean they just aren’t there. Extraterrestrial communications might be aimed at members of their own civilizations, in which case they’re more likely to go the DIRECTV route, and we’re likely to find only the “leakage” of those communication lines.

    “If there really are these advanced civilizations, it’d be trivial to contact us,” says Werthimer. “They’d be landing on the White House—well, maybe not this White House. But they’d be shining a laser in Frank Drake’s eyes. I don’t see why they would make it so difficult that we would have to do all this hard stuff.”

    And so humans, and our sleeping computers, may have to eavesdrop on messages not addressed to us—the ones the aliens send to their own (for lack of a better word) people, and then insert ourselves into the chatter. “I don’t mean to interrupt,” we might someday say, “but I couldn’t help overhearing…” And because of SETI@Home and BOINC, it might be your laptop that gets that awkward conversation started.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

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

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

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

    SETI@home is not a part of the SETI Institute

    The SETI@home screensaver image
    SETI@home screensaver

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

    MAJOR PROJECTS RUNNING ON BOINC SOFTWARE

    SETI@home The search for extraterrestrial intelligence. “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 the birthplace of BOINC software. Originally, it only ran in a screensaver when the computer on which it was installed was doing no other work. With the powerand memory available today, BOINC can run 24/7 without in any way interfering with other ongoing work.

    seti
    The famous SET@home screen saver, a beauteous thing to behold.

    einstein@home The search for pulsars. “Einstein@Home uses your computer’s idle time to search for weak astrophysical signals from spinning neutron stars (also called pulsars) using data from the LIGO gravitational-wave detectors, the Arecibo radio telescope, and the Fermi gamma-ray satellite. Einstein@Home volunteers have already discovered more than a dozen new neutron stars, and we hope to find many more in the future. Our long-term goal is to make the first direct detections of gravitational-wave emission from spinning neutron stars. Gravitational waves were predicted by Albert Einstein almost a century ago, but have never been directly detected. Such observations would open up a new window on the universe, and usher in a new era in astronomy.”

    MilkyWay@Home Milkyway@Home uses the BOINC platform to harness volunteered computing resources, creating a highly accurate three dimensional model of the Milky Way galaxy using data gathered by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. This project enables research in both astroinformatics and computer science.”

    Leiden Classical “Join in and help to build a Desktop Computer Grid dedicated to general Classical Dynamics for any scientist or science student!”

    World Community Grid (WCG) World Community Grid is a special case at BOINC. WCG is part of the social initiative of IBM Corporation and the Smarter Planet. WCG has under its umbrella currently eleven disparate projects at globally wide ranging institutions and universities. Most projects relate to biological and medical subject matter. There are also projects for Clean Water and Clean Renewable Energy. WCG projects are treated respectively and respectably on their own at this blog. Watch for news.

    Rosetta@home “Rosetta@home needs your help to determine the 3-dimensional shapes of proteins in research that may ultimately lead to finding cures for some major human diseases. By running the Rosetta program on your computer while you don’t need it you will help us speed up and extend our research in ways we couldn’t possibly attempt without your help. You will also be helping our efforts at designing new proteins to fight diseases such as HIV, Malaria, Cancer, and Alzheimer’s….”

    GPUGrid.net “GPUGRID.net is a distributed computing infrastructure devoted to biomedical research. Thanks to the contribution of volunteers, GPUGRID scientists can perform molecular simulations to understand the function of proteins in health and disease.” GPUGrid is a special case in that all processor work done by the volunteers is GPU processing. There is no CPU processing, which is the more common processing. Other projects (Einstein, SETI, Milky Way) also feature GPU processing, but they offer CPU processing for those not able to do work on GPU’s.

    gif

    These projects are just the oldest and most prominent projects. There are many others from which you can choose.

    There are currently some 300,000 users with about 480,000 computers working on BOINC projects That is in a world of over one billion computers. We sure could use your help.

    My BOINC

    graph

     
  • richardmitnick 3:13 pm on March 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute, , NIROSETI at Lick, , SETI@home   

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

    SETI Logo new
    SETI Institute

    Undated
    No writer credit

    1

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

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

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

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

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

    See the full article here .

    OTHER WAYS TO HELP IN THE SEARCH FOR EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIFE

    SETI@home
    SETI@home

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

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

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

    SETI@home is not a part of the SETI Institute

    The SETi@home screensaver image
    SETI@home screensaver

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

    Breakthrough Listen Project

    About
    Board
    Are We Alone?
    News
    Events
    Contacts

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

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

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

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

    Breakthrough Listen is currently operating on three telescopes

    Green Bank Radio Telescope


    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

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

    Parkes Radio Telescope


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

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

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

    From Air & Space: “SETI Gets an Upgrade” 

    1

    Air & Space

    June 2016
    Damond Benningfield

    2
    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.”

    3
    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.”

    4
    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

    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array
    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array

    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.

    5
    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.

    7
    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.

    8
    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.

    8
    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.

    4
    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.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 3:57 pm on July 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , SETI@home   

    From SETI@home: Interview with Dave Anderson 

    SETI@home
    SETI@home

    David Anderson talks BOINC, Citizen Science, and Why We Still Need You

    David Anderson is co-creator of SETI@home, and the Director of BOINC, the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing. David is a computer scientist by trade, and mathematician by training who’s had a decades long interest in distributed computing and volunteer science.

    Download BOINC and join the science!
    http://boinc.berkeley.edu/download.php

    Learn more about David
    https://seti.berkeley.edu/user/46

    Follow us on Twitter:
    https://twitter.com/setiathome
    Facebook:
    https://www.facebook.com/BerkeleySETI

    Watch, enjoy, learn, maybe think about joining up.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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

     
  • richardmitnick 8:42 am on March 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , SETI@home   

    From SETI’s Seth Shostak at NYT: “Messaging the Stars” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    MARCH 27, 2015

    SETI Seth Shostak
    Seth Shostak

    SETI Institute

    1

    For more than a half-century, a small group of astronomers has sought intelligent company among the stars. They’ve done so by turning large radio antennas skyward, hoping to eavesdrop on signals from an advanced society. It’s a program known as SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

    But now some researchers propose that we should do more than simply don headphones and await E.T.’s call: We should make serious efforts to encourage a response from putative aliens by deliberately transmitting our own messages. It’s a simple idea, akin to tossing a bottle into the cosmic ocean. But recent arguments for what’s termed active SETI have loosed a storm of controversy, one that has even washed into the halls of academe.

    Why is this? Why has the sending of dispatches to worlds many trillions of miles distant suddenly become a hot-button issue? The simple answer is that there’s now a perception that advertising our existence could be a mortal threat to the planet.

    The reasoning is this: While no one has yet offered decisive proof for life beyond Earth, in the past two years astronomers have learned that tens of billions of habitable planets suffuse our galaxy. Consequently, to believe that only Earth has spawned intelligence is to insist that our world is the site of a miracle. That point of view rarely appeals to scientists.

    The aliens could very well be out there. And that realization has spurred a call by some for broadcasts intended to elicit a communication from at least the nearest other star systems. But we know nothing of the aliens’ possible motives or behavior. Therefore, it’s conceivable that betraying our existence might prompt aggressive action from space.

    Broadcasting is likened to “shouting in the jungle” — not a good idea when you don’t know what’s out there. The British physicist Stephen Hawking alluded to this danger by noting that on Earth, when less advanced societies drew the attention of those more advanced, the consequences for the former were seldom agreeable.

    It’s a worry we never used to have. Victorian-era scientists toyed with plans to use lanterns and burning pools of oil to contact postulated Martians. In the 1970s, NASA bolted greeting cards onto spacecraft that will leave our solar system and wander the vast reaches between the stars. The Pioneer and Voyager probes carry plaques and records with information about what humans look like and where Earth is, as well as a small sampling of our culture.

    NASA Pioneer 10
    NASA/Pioneer 10

    NASA Voyager 1
    NASA/Voyager 1

    Those messages move at the speed of rockets. But in 1974, a three-minute encoded pictogram was transmitted using the large radio antenna at Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

    Arecibo
    Arecibo Radio Observatory

    It moves at the speed of light, 20,000 times faster. More recent radio transmissions include a Beatles song beamed by NASA to the North Star, a Doritos advertisement launched to a planetary system in the Big Dipper, and a series of broadcasts sent to nearby stars using an antenna in Crimea.

    When most people believed that aliens were no more than easy black hats for Hollywood, the idiosyncratic nature of these messages could be easily dismissed. But if cosmic company is a legitimate possibility, shouldn’t we offer up something more edifying than pop music and snack food? A deliberate transmission should represent all of humanity — not short-circuit the important question of who will speak for Earth.

    Consequently, recent conferences on the merits of active SETI have sought the advice of social scientists. Among their worries is whether to be up front about humanity’s seamy side: Should we tell the extraterrestrials about war and injustice?

    Personally, I think this concern is overwrought. Any society that can pick up our radio messages will be at a level of development at least centuries beyond our own. They would be no more incensed by our bad behavior than historians who learned that Babylonians attacked one another with spears. It seems naïve to imagine that, by shielding aliens from the less flattering aspects of humanity, we would somehow lessen any incentive to do us harm. If there’s a danger, mincing words is unlikely to eliminate it.

    A better approach is to note that the nearest intelligent extraterrestrials are likely to be at least dozens of light-years away. Even assuming that active SETI provokes a reply, it won’t be breezy conversation. Simple back-and-forth exchanges would take decades. This suggests that we should abandon the “greeting card” format of previous signaling schemes, and offer the aliens Big Data.

    For example, we could transmit the contents of the Internet. Such a large corpus — with its text, pictures, videos and sounds — would allow clever extraterrestrials to decipher much about our society, and even formulate questions that could be answered with the material in hand. Sending the web on its way would take months if a radio transmitter were used. A powerful laser, conveying bits much like an optical fiber, could launch these data in a few days.

    Sending messages — even big ones — is technically feasible. However, there’s still the highly controversial matter of whether to broadcast at all. Who decides? One could simply let the public weigh in, but doing so wouldn’t address the security issue. Even if a majority is comfortable with a transmission, how does that mitigate the possible danger?

    The inability to gauge this peril prompts some critics to argue that, given the possibly existential threat posed by active SETI, we should choose the side of caution. We should simply forbid powerful transmissions to the skies. Indeed, a small consortium of academics in California has drafted a petition urging this.

    It’s a wary approach. It’s also poor insurance. Any extraterrestrials with technology advanced enough to threaten us will surely have antennas larger than our own, instruments that can pick up the television and radio signals broadcast willy-nilly since World War II. We are already shouting into the jungle, albeit with less volume than a deliberate signal. But the dangerous creatures may have good hearing.

    Additionally, if we forbid high-powered transmitters aimed at the sky, we shut out such obvious future technologies as better radars for aviation and tracking dangerous asteroids. Do we really want to hamstring our descendants this way?

    A decision to engage in active SETI has not been made. The benefit — learning our place in the cosmos — is only hypothetical, and so is the danger. But I, for one, would hesitate to let a paranoia based on nothing more than conjecture shackle the activities of our children and our children’s children. The universe beckons, and we can do better than to declare that future generations should endlessly tremble at the sight of the stars.

    Seth Shostak is the director of the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute, and a host of the radio program Big Picture Science.

    See the full article here.

    SETI Institute promoted the Allen Telescope Array for signal collection.

    Allen Telescope Array

    The Arecibo Radio Telescope is the prime source for data for SET@home a Citizen Science project that runs on personal computers with BOINC software from UC Berkeley.

    SETI@home screensaver

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 12:57 pm on February 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , SETI@home   

    From New Scientist: “The search for ET: how close are we?” 

    NewScientist

    New Scientist

    23 December 2014
    Graham Lawton

    In 1950, Nobel prizewinning physicist Enrico Fermi posed his famous paradox: if extraterrestrial intelligence exists, why haven’t we found it?

    Why indeed? It is not as if we haven’t been trying. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) has been going on for over half a century. It has mostly drawn a blank. But once in a while there is a flurry of excitement. Here are some of the highlights.

    First contact

    On 8 April 1960, Cornell University astronomer Frank Drake pointed a 26-metre radio telescope at two nearby stars. The telescope – based at the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in West Virginia – was tuned to a frequency of 1420 megahertz, the wavelength of radiation naturally emitted by hydrogen in space. Thus began Project Ozma, the first experiment explicitly designed to look for aliens.

    Drake was hoping to detect radio waves sent by an extraterrestrial civilisation. He chose the emission frequency of hydrogen because it is the most abundant element in the universe, and hence an obvious signal for any intelligent civilisation trying to get itself noticed by another.

    Although the stars – Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani – were considered promising candidates, being nearby and sun-like, Project Ozma detected nothing in over 150 hours of observation.

    In 1972, astronomers at NRAO had a second go, this time using a bigger telescope that collected as much data in a minute as the older one could in 19 years. They sporadically monitored more than 650 stars for four years, again searching for the hydrogen signal – and again finding nothing. But the Ozma projects established SETI as a credible discipline and set the scene for many more attempts.

    The Wow! signal

    One of the projects inspired by Ozma was the “Big Ear” programme at Ohio State University, which ran from 1973 to 1995. On 15 August 1977, its 79-metre dish picked up a powerful burst of radio waves from the general direction of Sagittarius.

    2
    WOW signal

    3
    Big Ear

    The burst lasted 72 seconds and was very close to the emission frequency of hydrogen – considered a likely candidate for alien messages. When astronomer Jerry Ehman saw the signal recorded on a computer printout, he circled it in red pen and scrawled “Wow!” on the sheet of paper.

    The set-up of the telescope made it hard to work out exactly where the burst came from, but the general patch of sky was identified.

    The “Wow!” signal remains the most promising putative alien signal ever detected by SETI. But despite extensive searches of the same patch of sky it has never been seen since.

    Radio ga-ga

    In 2007, astronomers at West Virginia University discovered a previously unknown celestial phenomenon: a super-intense, very brief burst of radio waves apparently originating outside our galaxy.

    The Fast Radio Burst lasted for just 15 milliseconds but released more energy than the sun emits in about a month. Calculations suggested that it came from an object no more than 1500 kilometres across.

    At the time there was no obvious explanation for the FRB. Astronomers speculated that it came from a single cataclysmic event, such as the final collapse of a dying black hole or the merger of two neutron stars.

    A handful of other FRBs have since been detected but there is still no agreed explanation.

    Inevitably, the gap has been filled by speculation that FRBs are messages from aliens. Earlier this year, Nigel Watson, author of the UFO Investigations Manual, told the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper that FRBs could be evidence of a “vast alien communication network”. Or, he said, it could just be an as-yet-unknown astronomical phenomenon.

    Messages closer to home

    In the absence of a smoking gun from the sky, some alien hunters have looked for signs on our doorstep. For a while, crop circles – strange geometric patterns that began to appear in arable fields in southern England in the 1970s – were claimed by many people to be messages from ET. They are now known to be the work of artists and pranksters.

    Around a decade ago a slightly more serious idea began to circulate: perhaps there are alien messages in our DNA. As Paul Davies, author of The Eerie Silence: Renewing our search for alien intelligence, wrote in New Scientist in 2004: “Might ET have inserted a message into the genomes of terrestrial organisms, perhaps by delivering carefully crafted viruses in tiny space probes to infect host cells with message-laden DNA?”

    A decade on, we have no evidence whatsoever that ET did this. In the past couple of years the idea has been revived in a slightly different form: a pair of Kazakh researchers have proposed that the genetic code would be a better place to plant a signal, and even claim to have found what they call “the Wow! signal of the genetic code”.

    Comin’ atcha

    Our failure to detect alien messages has not deterred us from sending some of our own. As soon as humans learned to communicate using radio waves we began unwittingly broadcasting to the stars: the earliest radio shows are now about 100 light years away and counting.

    The first deliberate attempt to contact ET was in 1972, with the launch of NASA’s Pioneer 10 space probe.

    NASA Pioneer 10
    Pioneer 10

    This carried a gold-plated aluminium plaque bearing pictures of a male and a female nude and graphical information about the origin of the craft, in the (extremely unlikely) event of it being intercepted by aliens. Pioneer 10 is currently on the fringes of the solar system on course for a star 68 light years away. Pioneer 11, launched in 1973, also carries a plaque.

    NASA Pioneer 11
    Pioneer 11

    A more detailed message was loaded onto the Voyager 1 and 2 probes, launched in 1977.

    NASA Voyager 1
    Voyager 1

    NASA Voyager 2
    Voyager 2

    Both carry a gold-plated copper disc encoding over 150 images and sounds from Earth, greetings in 55 languages, and brief excerpts of music. (In 2010, Voyager 2 started sending some unusual signals back to Earth, prompting speculation that it had been hijacked by aliens. It turned out to be a computer glitch.)

    The chances of any of these physical messages ever being picked up is remote in the extreme, but they are not our only attempts at contact. At the dedication of Puerto Rico’s Arecibo radio telescope in November 1974, a digital message was beamed towards the star cluster Messier 13 (M13) 25,000 light years away.

    Arecibo Observatory
    Arecibo radio telescope

    The message – encoded in microwaves – included the numbers 1 to 10, various graphical representations of DNA and its constituent atoms, and drawings of a human figure, the planets of our solar system and a radio telescope. The message is currently just over 40 light years from Earth. It has yet to receive a reply.

    Since then, numerous other messages have been broadcast to the stars, including a giant Doritos advert beamed from the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard to a solar system 42 light years away. Such messages are controversial, however: some scientists believe we should keep our heads down so as not to alert malicious aliens to our feeble presence.

    See the full article here.

    There are two major efforts for contact: SETI Institute which operates the Allen Telescope Array.

    Allen Telescope Array

    and

    SETI@home, a project of “Radio SETI” in Citizen Science with processing of data running on home computers on BOINC software from UC Berkeley. SET@home gets its raw data from Arecibo radio telescope.

    SETI@home screensaver

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

     
c
Compose new post
j
Next post/Next comment
k
Previous post/Previous comment
r
Reply
e
Edit
o
Show/Hide comments
t
Go to top
l
Go to login
h
Show/Hide help
shift + esc
Cancel
%d bloggers like this: