Dedicated SETI Optical Telescope Starts Work

Apr 17, 2006

The Planetary Society dedicated its new optical telescope Tuesday in a new dedicated effort to search for light signals from alien civilizations. Its 72-inch primary mirror is the largest of any optical telescope in the United States east of the Mississippi River.

The telescope will conduct a year-round, all-sky survey, scanning the entire swath of the Milky Way that is visible in the northern hemisphere.

"This new search apparatus performs one trillion measurements per second and expands by 100,000-fold the sky coverage of our previous optical search," said Paul Horowitz of Harvard University, the facility's director.

The telescope was built at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Oak Ridge Observatory, where for many years, The Planetary Society conducted radiotelescope SETI searches with Horowitz. The first was the Mega-channel Extraterrestrial Assay search, or META, which later was expanded to the Billion-channel Extraterrestrial Assay, or BETA.

Scientists specializing in alien civilizations think they might be at least as likely to use visible light signals for communicating as they are would be to use radio transmissions. Visible light can form tight and incredibly intense beams, and its high frequencies allow it to carry enormous amounts of information.

Using only extant technology, an Earth-based laser to send a tightly focused light beam that for a brief instant could be 10,000 times brighter than the Sun. Such a beam could be easily observed from enormous distances with the right instrument.

"The opening of this telescope represents one of those rare moments in a field of scientific endeavor when a great leap forward is enabled," said Bruce Betts, the society's director of projects. "Sending laser signals across the cosmos would be a very logical way for E.T. to reach out, but until now, we have been ill equipped to receive any such signal."

The telescope's custom image processors will handle the equivalent of all books in print every second. As the telescope scans stripes of sky, it employs a custom-built camera containing an array of detectors that can detect a billionth-of-a-second flash of light. The telescope will scan the sky every night, weather permitting.

Copyright 2006 by Space Daily, Distributed United Press International

Explore further: Computer model shows moon's core surrounded by liquid and it's caused by Earth's gravity

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Fermi finds a 'transformer' pulsar

Jul 22, 2014

(Phys.org) —In late June 2013, an exceptional binary containing a rapidly spinning neutron star underwent a dramatic change in behavior never before observed. The pulsar's radio beacon vanished, while at ...

James Webb and the search for life beyond Earth

Jul 16, 2014

Before the invention of the telescope, before every continent was on a map, even before the revelation that Earth was not the center of the Universe, humans have wondered at the possibility of life beyond ...

Recommended for you

Comet Jacques makes a 'questionable' appearance

18 hours ago

What an awesome photo! Italian amateur astronomer Rolando Ligustri nailed it earlier today using a remote telescope in New Mexico and wide-field 4-inch (106 mm) refractor. Currently the brightest comet in ...

Image: Our flocculent neighbour, the spiral galaxy M33

19 hours ago

The spiral galaxy M33, also known as the Triangulum Galaxy, is one of our closest cosmic neighbours, just three million light-years away. Home to some forty billion stars, it is the third largest in the ...

Titan offers clues to atmospheres of hazy planets

19 hours ago

When hazy planets pass across the face of their star, a curious thing happens. Astronomers are not able to see any changes in the range of light coming from the star and planet system.

Having fun with the equation of time

19 hours ago

If you're like us, you might've looked at a globe of the Earth in elementary school long before the days of Google Earth and wondered just what that strange looking figure eight thing on its side was.

User comments : 0