From EarthSky: “Breakthrough Listen’s new search for alien lasers”

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From EarthSky

July 24, 2019
Paul Scott Anderson

For the last few decades, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence has focused on detecting radio signals. But a new collaboration between Breakthrough Listen and VERITAS will focus on looking for laser-like flashes of light.

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VERITAS will be used to help search for laser-like optical light pulses that could be beacons from an advanced alien civilization. Image via MIT/New Atlas.

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETIInstitute) has traditionally looked for radio signals of artificial origin, i.e. coming from an alien civilization at least as advanced as our own.



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

We humans have been broadcasting radio waves into space for about 100 years now, since Marconi pioneered long-distance radio transmission. The reasoning has been that other civilizations might use radio, too. While that approach continues to be highly debated, there is another kind of search that is starting to be considered more seriously now as well: looking for optical signals – brief flashes of light like pulsing lasers – that could be used as beacons to communicate over interstellar distances.

On July 17, 2019, Breakthrough Initiatives – founded in 2015 by entrepreneur Yuri Milner – announced a new partnership with the VERITAS Collaboration to focus on this strategy. VERITAS (the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System) will search for such pulsed optical beacons, as well as radio signals, with its array of four 12-meter telescopes at the Whipple Observatory in Amado, Arizona.

Breakthrough Listen Project

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UC Observatories Lick Autmated Planet Finder, fully robotic 2.4-meter optical telescope at Lick Observatory, situated on the summit of Mount Hamilton, east of San Jose, California, USA




GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA


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


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

Newly added

CfA/VERITAS, a major ground-based gamma-ray observatory with an array of four 12m optical reflectors for gamma-ray astronomy in the GeV – TeV energy range. Located at Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory, Mount Hopkins, Arizona, US in AZ, USA, Altitude 2,606 m (8,550 ft)

CfA Whipple Observatory, located near Amado, Arizona on the slopes of Mount Hopkins, Altitude 2,606 m (8,550 ft)

Breakthrough Listen, part of Breakthrough Initiatives, has already been conducting searches using its still-ongoing radio frequency survey and spectroscopic optical laser survey. But VERITAS can take the search to a new level. It was built to detect cosmic gamma rays and is the most powerful telescope array in the world for studying high energy astrophysics. As it turns out, it can also be used to look for “pulsed optical beacons” – laser-like pulses of light – that are very short in duration, only a few nanoseconds (one nanosecond is a billionth of a second).

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Closer view of one of the 4 telescopes in the VERITAS array. Image via CfA/SciTechDaily.

An advantage of this method is that any artificial pulses could outshine stars that happen to lie in the same direction. The use of all four telescopes would also help to eliminate false positives from any detections made. VERITAS will provide a unique way of expanding the search for alien intelligence beyond previous methods, as noted by Yuri Milner:

“When it comes to intelligent life beyond Earth, we don’t know where it exists or how it communicates. So our philosophy is to look in as many places, and in as many ways, as we can. VERITAS expands our range of observation even further.”

Andrew Siemion at the Berkeley SETI Research Center added:

“Breakthrough Listen is already the most powerful, comprehensive, and intensive search yet undertaken for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth. Now, with the addition of VERITAS, we’re sensitive to an important new class of signals: fast optical pulses. Optical communication has already been used by NASA to transmit high definition images to Earth from the moon, so there’s reason to believe that an advanced civilization might use a scaled-up version of this technology for interstellar communication.”

VERITAS will be able to detect very faint light signals, if any exist, according to Jamie Holder at the University of Delaware:

Just how sensitive is VERITAS? The most powerful lasers on Earth can transmit a pulse of 500 terawatts lasting only a few nanoseconds. If one were placed at the distance of Tabby’s Star – that weird dimming star about 1,470 light-years away – then VERITAS could detect it. However, most of the stars that VERITAS will observe are 10-100 times closer than that, so feasibly a pulse of light 100-10,000 times fainter than that earthly laser could be found.

VERITAS being able to search for alien light signals is a great bonus, since that is not what it was designed for. As David Williams at the University of California, Santa Cruz said:

“It is impressive how well-suited the VERITAS telescopes are for this project, since they were built only with the purpose of studying very-high-energy gamma rays in mind.”

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Laser SETI, the future of SETI Institute research

In California, the SETI Institute is also using Lick Observatory‘s 40-inch Nickel Telescope on Mount Hamilton with a new pulse-detection system, to look for similar laser beacons from civilizations many light-years distant. Optical SETI has its advantages over radio SETI, such as no radio signal interference, according to Frank Drake, director of the Carl Sagan Center for Research:

One great advantage of optical SETI is that there’s no terrestrial interference. It’s an exciting new field.

This Lick experiment is unique as it uses three light detectors (photomultipliers) to search for bright pulses that arrive in a short period of time (less than a billionth of a second). Light from the star itself can also trigger the detectors as well, but seldom will all three photomultipliers be hit by photons within a billionth of a second time frame. This means few false alarms are expected, only about one per year.

New and novel ways of looking for evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence are welcome, since the previous, traditional SETI method of just searching for radio signals is considered by many to be antiquated. Would a civilization thousands or millions of years more advanced then us still be using radio waves to communicate? SETI and other searches should be as broad as possible, and consider alternate possibilities for the best chance of success. With billions of stars in our galaxy alone, the hunt for such signals is like looking for a needle in a haystack. VERITAS is just one such alternate method, but it is a good start.

Breakthrough Listen is a comprehensive initiative to search for evidence of intelligent, technological life from nearby stars to the universe at large. The objective is to examine one million nearby stars, all the stars in the galactic plane and 100 nearby galaxies, for both radio and optical signals. Not a small undertaking, but if there is to be any chance of finding an alien light show, then we must look.

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This is how far human radio broadcasts have reached into the galaxy – not the black square – but the little blue dot at the center of that zoomed-in square. The ever-expanding bubble announcing humanity’s presence to anyone listening in the Milky Way is now only about 200 light-years wide, in contrast to our 100,000-light-year galaxy. Graphic created by Adam Grossman. Read more from Emily Lakdawalla at the Planetary Society.

Search for extraterrestrial intelligence expands at Lick Observatory

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

New instrument scans the sky for pulses of infrared light

March 23, 2015
By Hilary Lebow

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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.

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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.

Optical SETI has its advantages over radio SETI, such as no radio signal interference, according to Frank Drake, director of the Carl Sagan Center for Research:

“One great advantage of optical SETI is that there’s no terrestrial interference. It’s an exciting new field.”

See the full article here .
See the earlier blog post on Breakthrough Listen here.

Not included in this far reaching article-

seti@home


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


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Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

Stem Education Coalition

Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.orgin 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

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From SETI Institute : “Search for space aliens comes up empty, but extraterrestrial life could still be out there”

SETI Logo new
From SETI Institute

Jul 1, 2019
Seth Shostak

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Credit: Breakthrough Listen / Danielle Futselaar

The “Breakthrough Listen” initiative listened in on 1,300 star systems and found no sign of E.T. But the search is set to expand.

Breakthrough Listen Project

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UC Observatories Lick Autmated Planet Finder, fully robotic 2.4-meter optical telescope at Lick Observatory, situated on the summit of Mount Hamilton, east of San Jose, California, USA




GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA


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


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

Newly added-

CfA/VERITAS, a major ground-based gamma-ray observatory with an array of four 12m optical reflectors for gamma-ray astronomy in the GeV – TeV energy range. Located at Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory, Mount Hopkins, Arizona, US in AZ, USA, Altitude 2,606 m (8,550 ft)

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, is a numbers game — and bigger numbers are better. The more places you look for alien beings — the more expansive your search — the greater the chance you’ll turn up proof of their existence. So it’s notable that Breakthrough Listen, a privately funded, decade-long research project based at the University of California, Berkeley, just announced a significant number of new observations. And while the researchers didn’t uncover any signals from extraterrestrials, they’ve taken a major step forward in the search.

The basic premise of SETI — that we live in a galaxy festooned with brainy societies — rests upon the hypothesis that there must be many habitats in the Milky Way where complex biology has had a chance to evolve and thrive.

Milky Way NASA/JPL-Caltech /ESO R. Hurt. The bar is visible in this image

There are about a trillion planets in the Milky Way. If you represented each planet with a marble and laid them all out on the ground cheek by jowl, they’d cover an area larger than Washington, D.C. It doesn’t take an outsize imagination to expect that at least some fraction of this multitude are home to clever inhabitants.

But how many is “some?” Even Nostradamus would struggle to come up with a precise answer. So let’s say one planet in a million, which doesn’t sound terribly brash (and we’re not even counting moons!). In that case, our galaxy has spawned roughly a million societies. Even if this estimate is hundreds or thousands of times too optimistic, there could still be plenty of aliens to find.

But if this straw-man argument suggests that extraterrestrials are out there, it also suggests that detecting them will require a lot of searching. The new results from Breakthrough Listen — an examination of roughly 1,300 nearby stars — has approximately doubled the tally of reconnoitered real estate. This was not a trivial effort; it took scientists three years of heavy-duty work using large antennas in West Virginia and Australia. For each of these star systems, they carefully sifted through several billion radio channels, looking for a signal of the type that only a radio transmitter can produce.

Frank Drake with his Drake Equation. Credit Frank Drake


Drake Equation, Frank Drake, Seti Institute

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

The bottom line of the new observations? No extraterrestrial radio emissions were detected. Sure, there were plenty of signals, but all could be ascribed to human activity — either transmitters here on Earth or orbiting satellites.

If that surprises or disappoints you, get a grip. Those 1,300 stars represent only a minuscule sample of the total planetary population.

It’s also worth noting that the new observations were reviewed only by the Breakthrough Listen team. Maybe they missed something. Others might apply their own signal-decoding algorithms and do their own analyses of this massive thicket of numbers and find something interesting. The Berkeley folks have made their data publicly accessible online just in case others want to try their personal favorite algorithm.

Still, it’s clear that SETI so far has failed to come home with a kewpie doll. Neither Breakthrough Listen nor any other SETI project has picked up a compelling narrow-band radio signal — one that’s at a single spot on the radio dial — that clearly originates from a source beyond our solar system. But Breakthrough Listen at least has refined the equipment, developed the software and trained a half-dozen grad students, all with the intention of continuing and expanding the search.

Indeed, the Breakthrough Listen team is thinking big. Their long-term goal is to target a million star systems — exceeding by hundreds of times the total number of targets scrutinized by SETI since the birth of the field 60 years ago.

Examining a million stellar environments might sound impractical, but it’s not. While it took three years to add 1,300 to the list of observed systems, the speed of the search is increasing. It won’t take a century or two to add a million more. The actual timescale is closer to a decade. That should buoy readers who hope to be among the first humans to learn whether aliens really exist.

Sure, there are no guarantees, and SETI rests upon a hypothesis that’s impossible to falsify. It may be that there is an abundance of inhabited worlds but that 21st century SETI technology — mostly listening for alien radio signals — is incapable of detecting them. But such caveats are no reason to stop trying, any more than we should abandon efforts to find a cure for the common cold just because none has yet been found.

SETI has always butted up against the fact that the universe is very large and mostly empty — and that exploring large chunks of it takes a long time. But there’s both hope and expectation that, as the numbers grow, so too will the chance that one day we’ll find a scratchy signal — one that will change all future history.

See the full article here .

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Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

Stem Education Coalition

SETI Institute

About the SETI Institute

What is life? How does it begin? Are we alone? These are some of the questions we ask in our quest to learn about and share the wonders of the universe. At the SETI Institute we have a passion for discovery and for passing knowledge along as scientific ambassadors.

The SETI Institute is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit scientific research institute headquartered in Mountain View, California. We are a key research contractor to NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF), and we collaborate with industry partners throughout Silicon Valley and beyond.

Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute employs more than 130 scientists, educators, and administrative staff. Work at the SETI Institute is anchored by three centers: the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe (research), the Center for Education and the Center for Outreach.

The SETI Institute welcomes philanthropic support from individuals, private foundations, corporations and other groups to support our education and outreach initiatives, as well as unfunded scientific research and fieldwork.

A Special Thank You to SETI Institute Partners and Collaborators
• Campoalto, Chile, NASA Ames Research Center, NASA Headquarters, National Science Foundation, Aerojet Rocketdyne,SRI International

Frontier Development Lab Partners
• Breakthrough Prize Foundation, European Space Agency, Google Cloud, IBM, Intel, KBRwyle. Kx Lockheed Martin, NASA Ames Research Center, Nvidia, SpaceResources Luxembourg, XPrize

In-kind Service Providers

Gunderson Dettmer – General legal services
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Danielle Futselaar

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

SETI Institute – 189 Bernardo Ave., Suite 100
Mountain View, CA 94043
Phone 650.961.6633 – Fax 650-961-7099
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Also in the hunt, but not a part of the SETI Institute


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

BOINCLarge

BOINC is a leader in the field(s) of Distributed Computing, Grid Computing and Citizen Cyberscience.BOINC is more properly the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, developed at UC Berkeley.

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From SETI Institute: “SETI Institute in the News June 20 – June 26, 2019”

SETI Logo new
From SETI Institute

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Life on Mars? Methane Readings Raise Hopes

Early results of measurements recently taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover show surprisingly high levels of methane on Mars, prompting the rover’s science team to schedule another sampling for confirmation, and spurring excitement in the science community. On Earth, methane is predominately generated as a waste product by living things (biotic methane), and this reading might be evidence of active microbial life existing beneath the martian surface. It’s also possible that the methane is due to non-biological chemical reactions (abiotic methane). However, methane breaks down quickly when exposed to sunlight – meaning it would have to have been produced within only the last few centuries. Astrobiologists can’t help but hope that this reading may be a smoking gun, so to speak, of life on Mars. The search for life is a major reason for the interest in the red planet, as Seth Shostak, SETI Institute Senior Astronomer, noted in an Interesting Engineering article:

“That’s the mythology,” said astronomer Seth Shostak, of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute. “Mars is about life, not geology, as interesting as that is.”

NASA has stated it will not officially announce the readings until additional data are taken and the results confirmed.

Interesting Engineering: Hotly-Contested Pursuit of Methane Brings Us Closer to Finding Life on Mars

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Breakthrough Listen and the Search for Extraterrestrials

Breakthrough Listen Project

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UC Observatories Lick Autmated Planet Finder, fully robotic 2.4-meter optical telescope at Lick Observatory, situated on the summit of Mount Hamilton, east of San Jose, California, USA




GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA


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


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

Axios took note of the wealth of data released to the public by Breakthrough Listen, the largest release of SETI data to date. While significant, it still only represents searching a tiny amount of the vast universe, as Jill Tarter, co-founder of the SETI Institute and Chair Emeritus for SETI Research, told Axios:

“If you compare the volume of space we’re able to search for signs of advanced technology to the volume of Earth’s oceans, then “so far, since 1960, we’ve searched about one hot tub’s worth of the ocean,” says longtime SETI researcher Jill Tarter.

Not only is the search only beginning, our technology may not yet be advanced enough to detect the kind of signals SETI researchers are hoping to find, SETI Institute Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak explains:

“So, there’s always that possibility that we’re just, you know, not at the point where we can pick up the signals easily. There may be lots and lots of signals, but we can’t pick them up,” SETI Institute’s Seth Shostak told Axios.

Are we alone? For now, the question stands. Further analysis of the data already collected and published by Breakthrough Listen, now available to SETI researchers and the public everywhere, may inform and help to improve future searches.

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The SETI Institute and UC Berkeley’s SETI@home: Two Approaches toward a Shared Goal

Visitors to the SETI Institute often mention that their interest in the search for life beyond Earth started with a program called SETI@home. This software allows volunteers to lend their computers to run a background program that processes data collected by radio telescopes in search of possible extraterrestrial signals. The public response to SETI@home’s 1999 launch was incredibly enthusiastic, proving the value of citizen science. While the SETI Institute is not affiliated with SETI@home, the volunteer computer project, created by the Berkeley SETI Research Center, has been an important complement to the SETI Institute’s research and outreach efforts, as SETI Institute Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak noted in a recent article on the Ringer:

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

Shostak says he’s often asked whether SETI@home has helped him. “Of course the easy answer is no, because it’s not our project,” he says. “But that’s not true. It’s like asking an astronomer in the 1980s, ‘Hey, does Carl Sagan help you?’ And, of course, if that guy doesn’t work with Carl Sagan he’ll say no. But, in fact, Carl Sagan has helped him, because Carl Sagan has increased the interest in the field of astronomy. … SETI@home has done much the same for SETI.”

The article also discussed the different approaches the two groups take. SETI Institute is able to monitor for signals and investigate in real-time using the (ATA), as Shostak explained:

When it picks up a signal, it can be investigated immediately, reorienting the telescope to see whether the signal is really interstellar or is only interference masquerading as the real deal. Seth Shostak, the SETI Institute’s Senior Astronomer, says, “We wanted to follow up on signals immediately, within a minute, because you don’t want to run the risk of, well, this was a beacon, and then E.T. got bored or went out to lunch or who knows what and then turned off their transmitter, pointed it somewhere else.”

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

On the other hand, SETI@home can take more time to sift through data in depth:

“We have to make a decision, what are the best sorts of signal signatures to look for,” Shostak says. “And they can look for a wider range of those, because they have all the time in the world and a lot of the processing power in the world.”

Jon Richards, SETI Institute research scientist whose work concentrates on SETI signals with the ATA, is himself cognizant of the difficulties faced by the two non-profits since funding for NASA’s SETI research was cut back in the early 90’s:

SETI Institute research scientist Jon Richards says that SETI@home “does well with the resources it has, but it needs to grow larger,” adding, “I would support a big funding initiative.” Richards notes that even if new cloud-computing companies could replicate SETI@home’s power, they couldn’t replicate the PR value of making the public part of the search.

Rather than rivalry, the two organizations share a common goal: to find out what, if any, forms of intelligent life exist elsewhere in the universe. Jill Tarter, co-founder of the SETI Institute and Chair Emeritus for SETI Research, sees the value in both paths to find answers:

Tarter values SETI@home’s role in expanding the public’s involvement in science. “No question that SETI@home put citizen science with distributed competing on the map,” she says.

Tarter is still partial to the SETI Institute’s approach. “I prefer to analyze incoming data as close to real time as possible in order to follow up immediately,” she says. “On the other hand, SETI@home has an enormous amount of time on the sky at certain frequencies, but with delayed analysis. We’ll know which was the better strategy when one of us succeeds.”

The Ringer: E.T.’s Home Phone

See the full article here .

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Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

Stem Education Coalition

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

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From SETI@home via The Ringer: “E.T.’s Home Phone”

SETI@home
From SETI@home

via

The Ringer

May 24, 2019
Ben Lindbergh

UC Berkeley’s SETI@home, one of the most significant citizen-science projects of the late 20th century, brought the search for intelligent life to PCs. It hasn’t yet found what it set out to, but there’s still hope.

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Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Around the time the movie Contact came out in 1997, Kevin D., a governmental IT support and procurement employee in Toronto, saw a notice on a technical news site about a piece of software that was being developed by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. The scientists were interested in SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and courtesy of Contact, so was Kevin D. The moment he heard about the program that would eventually come to be called SETI@home wasn’t as dramatic as Jodie Foster’s portrayal of Dr. Eleanor Arroway discovering a message sent across the universe, but it would make a major impact on the next two decades of his life. It also signaled the advent of a productive and unprecedented citizen-science project that continues today, 20 years after it launched in May 1999.

Kevin D. aspired to be a scientist as soon as he could read, but financial difficulties forced him to drop out of university, which put an end to that dream. “I could have probably gone with student loans and a few years of eating ramen, but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind anymore,” he says. “SETI@home and other distributed-computing projects have filled that need nicely, allowing me to contribute to science on a scale that would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago.”

SETI@home was the brainchild of a UC Berkeley grad student named David Gedye, who came up with the concept of using personal computers for scientific purposes in 1995. “That was the point where a lot of home computers were on the internet,” says Berkeley research scientist David Anderson, Gedye’s grad advisor and the cofounder of SETI@home. “Also the point where personal computers were becoming fast enough that they could potentially do number-crunching for scientific purposes.”

Gedye thought using computers to comb through data recorded by radio telescopes in search of signals sent by intelligent extraterrestrial life would both appeal to the public and demonstrate the potential for public participation to boost the scientific community’s processing power. He and Anderson joined forces with multiple partners in the astronomy and SETI fields, including Eric Korpela, the current director of SETI@home, and Dan Werthimer, the Berkeley SETI Research Center’s chief scientist. Werthimer was a SETI veteran who had been hunting for alien life since the 1970s and oversaw the SERENDIP program, which piggybacks on observations that radio astronomers are already conducting and scours the results for evidence that E.T. is phoning our home. SERENDIP supplied the incipient SETI@home with data from the venerable Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which until 2016 featured the world’s largest single-aperture radio telescope.

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

Fueled by $50,000 from the Planetary Society and $10,000 from a company backed by Microsoft cofounder and SETI enthusiast Paul Allen, Korpela and Anderson started designing software that would split that data into chunks that could be distributed to personal computers, processed, and sent back to Berkeley for further analysis. By the spring of ’99, SETI@home was ready to launch, despite the difficulty of making it compatible with all kinds of computers and dealing with pre-broadband internet. But its creators weren’t prepared for the outpouring of public interest that propagated through word of mouth and posts on forums and sites such as Slashdot.

“The biggest issue was not the people on dial-up connections,” Korpela recalls. “It was just the sheer number of people that were interested in SETI@home. When we started SETI@home, we planned or thought that maybe we could get 10,000 people to be interested in doing this. The day we turned it on, we had close to half a million people show up.”

In 1999, the public portion of the internet was new enough that going viral was a nearly unknown phenomenon. But Korpela says that within a month or two, SETI@home had attracted a couple million active users, which overwhelmed the modest equipment underpinning the project, causing frequent crashes. “We were planning on running our servers from a small desktop machine,” Korpela says. “That didn’t really work.” Sun Microsystems stepped in to donate more powerful hardware, and SETI@home users helped the perpetually underfunded program defray the cost of bandwidth, which was expensive at the time. In 1999, Korpela says, Berkely was paying $600 a month for each megabit per second, and SETI@home was guzzling about 25.

On the plus side, the uptick in processing power was immediately apparent. “The main benefit of the SETI@home–type processing is that it gives us about a factor-of-10 increase in sensitivity,” Korpela says. “So we can detect a signal that’s 10 times smaller than we could just using the instrumentation that’s available at the radio telescope.”

As SETI@home spread, a few of its more zealous acolytes ran afoul of the workplaces where they installed it, which the program’s creators advised users not to do without permission. In 2001, 16 employees of the Tennessee Valley Authority were reprimanded for installing the software on their office computers. (I know the feeling; my mom wasn’t pleased about the electricity costs she claimed I was incurring when she spotted the screensaver on my own early-2000s PC.) In 2002, computer technician David McOwen faced criminal charges and was ultimately put on probation when he installed SETI@home at DeKalb Technical College in Atlanta. And in 2009, network systems administrator Brad Niesluchowski lost his job after installing SETI@home on thousands of computers across an Arizona school district. (Niesluchowski, or “NEZ,” still ranks 17th on the all-time SETI@home leaderboard for data processed.) Korpela has made several SETI@home sightings in the wild, including on point-of-sale cash registers and, once, on a public computer at an Air Force base (which wasn’t Area 51).

Over the decades, SETI@home’s user base has dwindled to between 100,000 and 150,000 people, operating an average of two computers and six to eight CPUs per person. But the remaining participants’ computers are hundreds or thousands of times more powerful than they were in 1999. “When we started, we designed our work units—our data chunks going out to people—to be something that a typical PC would be able to finish computing in about a week, and a current GPU will do those in a couple of minutes,” Korpela says. SETI@home is now available via an Android app that’s used by about 12,000 participants, and even smartphones smoke turn-of-the-century desktop computers in processing speed.

The SETI@home software has evolved along with the hardware that hosts it. In the early years, the program ran as a screensaver, which served multiple purposes. First, screensavers were popular, so the software filled a need. Second, the graphical representations of the program’s activities fed users’ scientific curiosity and reassured them that the program was working as intended. And third, it functioned as eye candy that entertained users and caught the attention of anyone within visual range. Now that screensavers have fallen out of favor and more people prefer to turn off their monitors or computers when they’re not in use to save power, Anderson says, “We’ve kind of moved away from the screensaver model to the model of just running invisibly in the background while you’re at your computer.”

A shortcoming of the original SETI@home software led to a much more significant change—and, indirectly, the greatest legacy of SETI@home, at least so far. In the program’s initial form, the signal-processing logic and the code that handled displaying the screensaver and receiving and transmitting data were a package deal. “Each time we wanted to change the algorithms, to change the scientific part, we had to have all of our users download and install a new program,” Anderson says. “And then we would lose some fraction of our users each time we did that.”

The solution was separating the science part from the distributed-computing part by building a platform that could update the algorithm without requiring a reinstall. Better yet, that platform could act as a conduit for any number of alternative distributed-computing efforts. In 2002, Anderson built and released that system, which he called Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, or BOINC.

SETI@home, which migrated to BOINC in 2005, has thus far failed in its primary purpose: to detect intelligent alien life. But it’s succeeded in its secondary goal of demonstrating the viability of distributed computing. Other researchers have emulated that model, and BOINC, which is funded primarily by the National Science Foundation, is now home to 38 active projects that are doing useful science, including investigating diseases and identifying drugs that could combat cancer, modeling climate change, and searching for phenomena such as pulsars and gravitational waves. Research conducted by BOINC-based projects has generated 150 scientific papers (and counting), and the network’s collective computing power—about 27 petaflops—makes it more powerful than all but four of the world’s individual supercomputers. Anderson, who believes volunteer computing is still underutilized by the scientific community, says it’s especially “well suited to the general area of physical simulations where you have programs that simulate physical reality, which scales anywhere from the atomic level up to the entire universe.”

See the full article here.

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Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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

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

#boinc-berkeley-open-infrastructure-for-network-computing, #setihome

From SETI@home: “Coming of Age for Optical SETI”

SETI@home
From SETI@home

10 May 2019
Richard M Lawn
Project administrator

Radio transmission has been the way we have searched for alien messages almost since its invention. In the early 1900s, wireless communication pioneers Tesla and Marconi suspected that they could have stumbled upon signals from Martians. In 1960, Frank Drake conducted the first modern search with a radio telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia.

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

Drake Equation, Frank Drake, Seti Institute

Since then, radio SETI has matured with dramatic technological improvement including the advent of detectors covering millions of frequency channels, and more powerful telescopes and computational tools. Lasers were invented decades after radio. When they were, it became natural to wonder whether alien civilizations might use powerful lasers for interstellar communication via light. An initial consideration was whether they could transmit light signals which would be detectable against the background of their sun’s light. But by now Earthlings can produce laser pulses that can outshine our Sun. We imagine that ET could do far better.

Modern optical SETI surveys began around the year 2000. Searches by the Harvard SETI group led by Paul Horowitz, and by the University of California (Berkeley and San Diego) groups led by Dan Werthimer and Shelley Wright, have pointed telescopes equipped with “laser detectors” at roughly 10,000 stars to date. However, each individual star was viewed for 5-10 minutes or so.

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).jpg

Shelley Wright of UC San Diego, with NIROSETI, developed at U Toronto, at the 1-meter Nickel Telescope at Lick Observatory at UC Santa Cruz

NIROSETI team from left to right Rem Stone UCO Lick Observatory Dan Werthimer UC Berkeley Jérôme Maire U Toronto, Shelley Wright UCSD Patrick Dorval, U Toronto Richard Treffers Starman Systems. (Image by Laurie Hatch)

This is the barest beginning of a comprehensive optical search program. (Recalling our Drake Equation exercise last month, you will have had to predict at least tens of millions of communicating planets in our galaxy for this to amount to a search with a high probability of success.)

The next step would be the advent of laser SETI searches capable of continuous observations of much of the sky. This is the aim of the PANOSETI (Panoramic Optical SETI) project now in the advanced design stage by a consortium from the University of California, San Diego and Berkeley, Harvard University and the SETI Institute. PANOSETI will detect wavelengths ranging from optical into near-infrared, which suffers from less interstellar absorption. It will build fast-response detectors capable of catching very short pulses of light, positing that ET will use quick optical bursts so that its signals stand out from the noise of its background starlight. The major PANOSETI goal of continuous, wide-sky coverage is a significant advance over past brief glances per star. Quite possibly, a civilization with a program to beam signals to potential watchers in the galaxy would need to beam its super-lasers at defined directions at a time, taking some time to cover the whole sky before repeating its transmission in our direction. We would be likely to miss such a deliberate (or even accidental) transmission if we only watch any given star for ten minutes. “As a team, we want to design a dedicated optical SETI observatory that is capable of continuously monitoring the night sky for a bursting artificial or natural signal” said Shelley Wright, PANOSETI Principle Investigator. “Ultimately, we want to take a picture of the entire observable sky every nanosecond.”

See the full article here.

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Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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

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

#in-1960-frank-drake-conducted-the-first-modern-search-with-a-radio-telescope-in-green-bank-west-virginia-usa, #searches-were-led-by-the-harvard-seti-group-led-by-paul-horowitz-and-by-the-university-of-california-berkeley-and-san-diego-groups-led-by-dan-werthimer-and-shelley-wright, #setihome, #shelley-wright-ucsd-brought-niroseti-developed-at-u-toronto-to-ucsc-lick-observatorys-nickle-telescope, #teams-have-pointed-telescopes-equipped-with-laser-detectors-at-roughly-10000-stars-to-date

From Harvard Gazette: “Is anybody out there?”

Harvard University
Harvard University


From Harvard Gazette

1
Earth’s night lights seen from the International Space Station. Photo courtesy of NASA

Astronomer Jill Tarter on the search for intelligent life.

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


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

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

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

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

Q&A with Jill Tarter

Jill Tarter Image courtesy of Jill Tarter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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



GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

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

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

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

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

See the full article here .

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Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

Stem Education Coalition

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

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

#astronomy, #astrophysics, #basic-research, #cosmology, #jill-tarter, #radcliffe, #seti-institute, #setihome, #the-search-for-intelligent-life-in-the-universe

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

Astronomy magazine

From Astronomy Magazine

August 17, 2017
Alison Klesman

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laser SETI, the future of SETI Institute research

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

See the full article here .


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Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

Stem Education Coalition

#astronomy, #astrophysics, #basic-research, #cosmology, #laser-seti, #meti, #seti-institute, #setihome