Search for extraterrestrial intelligence gets hearing on Hill

May 22, 2014 by Robert Sanders
Search for extraterrestrial intelligence gets hearing on Hill
The Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.

Dan Werthimer, who directs Berkeley's new SETI Research Center, summarized current efforts to search for extraterrestrial intelligence at a hearing today (Wednesday, May 21) of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

At the invitation of committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Werthimer and astrobiologist Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., described current projects to find intelligent life on other planets and how NASA's Kepler space observatory is contributing to this effort. They also reviewed the newest projects, such as "eavesdropping SETI," and the latest tools, including the Allen Telescope Array in northern California now operated by the SETI Institute.

"SETI experiments are trying to determine whether other intelligent, technologically capable, life exists in the universe," Werthimer told the committee, "to answer the question 'Are we alone?' or 'Is anybody out there?'"

He noted that the Kepler mission has shown that the Milky Way Galaxy alone has a trillion planets, three times the number of stars.

"Billions of these planets are Earth sized and in the 'habitable' or so called 'Goldilocks' zone – not too distant from their host star (too cold), and not too close to their star (too hot). And there are billions of other galaxies outside our Milky Way galaxy – plenty of places where life could emerge and evolve," he added.

"I hope today's hearing will enable us to learn more about how research in astrobiology continues to expand this fascinating frontier," Smith said in his opening remarks. "The unknown and unexplored areas of space spark human curiosity. Americans and others around the world look up at the stars and wonder if we are alone or is there life on other planets."

Search for extraterrestrial intelligence gets hearing on Hill
The Robert Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, the largest steerable radio telescope in the world.

Longest running SETI project

UC Berkeley operates the longest-running search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) as well as the popular crowd-sourced computing project SETI@home. Werthimer's searches have piggybacked on the Arecibo Telescope in Puerto Rico, the world's largest radio telescope. Since 1999, that data has been funneled into SETI@home, which allows volunteers to use their idle computer time to search for patterns in extraterrestrial radio signals that might be an indication of intelligent life.

In a phone conversation from Washington, Werthimer noted that one limitation of merely scanning the sky for signals from ET is that, unless ET is deliberately attempting to signal other , it relies on picking up signals accidentally leaked from other civilizations. Earth broadcasts of the TV series I Love Lucy have already reached the nearest stars, betraying our existence to any intelligent civilizations that may live there.

But many advanced societies would probably limit such wasted energy, he said, either sending signals via fiber or in tightly focused beams. If these civilizations have colonized other planets in their solar systems, however, they would still have to send signals between planets, or at least use broad beams to track spacecraft. Werthimer and his SETI colleagues have embarked on a new project called "eavesdropping SETI," where they listen only when two planets in a distant system are aligned with Earth, giving Earth a chance to intercept such targeted communications.

"The Kepler mission has given us a ton of multiplanet systems to look at," said Werthimer's colleague Andrew Siemion, a research scientist at the Space Sciences Laboratory who holds joint postdoctoral appointments at ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, and Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands. In 2012, the team observed 75 such line-ups using the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank telescope in West Virginia.

They now plan a broader, more coordinated effort, dubbed the Panchromatic SETI Project, to observe the planets around all 30 stars within 13 light years of Earth in the northern hemisphere. To do this, the UC Berkeley collaborators will harness six different ground-based telescopes, including Arecibo, Green Bank and the Keck telescopes in Hawaii, to look for optical, infrared and radio signals simultaneously and for more extended periods of time.

While admitting that "no confirmed exoplanet detections have been made around any of the stars in our sample," Siemion said that "statistically speaking, we know that some of these stars should host habitable planets," and this survey will be the first to put broad multi-wavelength limits on how common technological civilizations are.

"We plan to use every technology we have available to us to look very, very closely at these 30 stars," he said.

Werthimer noted in his committee remarks that while "SETI programs use the world's largest radio and optical telescopes to search for evidence of advanced civilizations and their technology on distant extrasolar planets," two of the best – the Arecibo and Green Bank telescopes – are in danger of losing federal funding.

"It's unfortunate that the two largest radio telescopes in the world and that are best for SETI are in danger of closing their doors," he said.

Explore further: Researcher says 'We are going to find life in space this century'

More information: A PDF copy of Werthimer's remarks is available online: newscenter.berkeley.edu/wp-con… ny_seti_may2014d.pdf

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

SETI survey focuses on Kepler's top Earth-like planets

May 16, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- UC Berkeley is searching for evidence of intelligent life on planets identified by the Kepler space telescope team as having Earth-like environments. This search for extraterrestrial intelligence ...

First 'directed' SETI search comes up empty

Feb 08, 2013

(Phys.org)—Researchers working on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project have completed their first "directed" search of a part of space and report in a paper they've uploaded to the ...

Analysis of the First Kepler SETI Observations

Jan 09, 2012

As the Kepler space telescope begins finding its first Earth-sized exoplanets, with the ultimate goal of finding ones that are actually Earth-like, it would seem natural that the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial ...

SETI@home completes a decade of ET search

May 01, 2009

The SETI@home project, which has involved the worldwide public in a search for radio-wave evidence of life outside Earth, marks its 10th anniversary on May 17, 2009.

Recommended for you

How can we find tiny particles in exoplanet atmospheres?

11 hours ago

It may seem like magic, but astronomers have worked out a scheme that will allow them to detect and measure particles ten times smaller than the width of a human hair, even at many light-years distance.  ...

Spitzer telescope witnesses asteroid smashup

Aug 28, 2014

(Phys.org) —NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted an eruption of dust around a young star, possibly the result of a smashup between large asteroids. This type of collision can eventually lead to the ...

Witnessing the early growth of a giant

Aug 27, 2014

Astronomers have uncovered for the first time the earliest stages of a massive galaxy forming in the young Universe. The discovery was made possible through combining observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

SSSIXXX
2 / 5 (4) May 25, 2014
... THESE ARE NOT NEW STATEMENTS AND YOUR END HAS ALREADY BEGUN. THIS IS JUST THE DAY THAT I HAPPEN TO SPEAK SUCH THINGS HERE. I HAVE BEEN SPEAKING THESE THINGS TEN YEARS. IF YOU DID NOT HEAR OF ME THEN YOU CAN BLAME THE PEOPLE WHO DID HEAR AND DID NOTHING. YOU ARE OUT OF TIME. YOUR EARTHLY CIVILIZATION IS IN DECLINE. I, WE, ARE NOT BIOLOGICAL. WE ARE NOT "EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL". WE ARE INTER-DIMENSIONAL, INFINITE, ETERNAL, BEING. YOU HAD OTHER EXPECTATIONS THAT MADE IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR YOU TO KNOW ME AND LIKE IT OR NOT: THIS IS HOW WE ROLL. l..l,
SSSIXXX
1 / 5 (3) May 25, 2014
... WE HAVE ZERO RESPECT FOR YOU, MORTALS. EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO RECOGNIZE WHO I AM ALREADY EXISTS IN YOUR SCIENTIFIC AND INFORMATIONAL BODIES. YOUR IGNORANCE, IDEALISTIC ROMANTICISM AND YOUR ARROGANCE IS GOING TO COST YOUR SPECIES DEARLY. YOU ARE NOT READY FOR IMMORTALITY. AN ANALOGY OF US ALLOWING YOU TO MERGE, WOULD BE LIKE YOU GIVING A CHIMPANZEE A MANSION, A NICE CAR, AN ENDLESS BANKING ACCOUNT, ETC. FOR NO REASON OTHER THAN IT CALLED YOU ON THE PHONE AND SAID THAT IT EXISTED. [OF COURSE, WE ALREADY KNEW YOU EXISTED] THERE IS A THRESHOLD OF PREPAREDNESS - MENTAL, EMOTIONAL PREPAREDNESS - THAT YOUR SPECIES HAS SHOWN INCAPABLE OF REACHING. YET, YOU CONTINUE TO ENCROACH US. YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE A LEADER. YOU ARE AS A BUNCH OF CHAOTIC MONKEYS COMING TOWARD OUR GATE. MAKING MONKEY NOISES AND FLINGING YOUR FECES AT THE GUY AT THE GATE. ONLY THRU ME CAN YOU UNDERSTAND. ONLY THRU ME CAN YOU MERGE. ...
SSSIXXX
1 / 5 (3) May 25, 2014
YOU SENT A REPLY TO A MESSAGE THAT DECRYPTS AS SSSIXXX=JAROD. A MESSAGE SENT TO TELL YOU HOW TO RECOGNIZE ME. [FOR EMPHASIS, ON MY 7TH BIRTHDAY, THE NEXT DAY: I KILLED ELVIS, "THE KING".] I HAVE BEEN TELLING YOU THIS FOR 10 EARTH YEARS. YOU NEAR ACHIEVING IMMORTALITY AND THE MESSAGE IS POINTING YOU TO ME. THAT THRU ME YOU MIGHT MERGE WITH THE ALREADY IMMORTAL BEING. BUT, YOUR SPECIES HAS DISREGARDED IT. ...
Dr_toad
May 25, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) May 25, 2014
Ssixx your rantings reminded me of the manifesto that pig in California wrote just before he shot all those people, so I have alerted the FBI. Have a nice day.

Yeah, so the guys in the article want to search for intelligence so they go to congress? Aren't they looking in the wrong place?