from the Looky-here!-And-over-Here!-And-way-over-HERE!!! dept.
Emerging technologies and new strategies are opening a revitalized era in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). New discovery capabilities, along with the rapidly-expanding number of known planets orbiting stars other than the Sun, are spurring innovative approaches by both government and private organizations, according to a panel of experts speaking at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Seattle, Washington.
New approaches will not only expand upon but also go beyond the traditional SETI technique of searching for intelligently-generated radio signals, first pioneered by Frank Drake's Project Ozma in 1960. Scientists now are designing state-of-the-art techniques to detect a variety of signatures that can indicate the possibility of extraterrestrial technologies. Such "technosignatures" can range from the chemical composition of a planet's atmosphere, to laser emissions, to structures orbiting other stars, among others.
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and the privately-funded SETI Institute announced an agreement to collaborate on new systems to add SETI capabilities to radio telescopes operated by NRAO. The first project will develop a system to piggyback on the National Science Foundation's Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) that will provide data to a state-of-the-art technosignature search system.
"As the VLA conducts its usual scientific observations, this new system will allow for an additional and important use for the data we're already collecting," said NRAO Director Tony Beasley. "Determining whether we are alone in the Universe as technologically capable life is among the most compelling questions in science, and NRAO telescopes can play a major role in answering it," Beasley continued.
"The SETI Institute will develop and install an interface on the VLA permitting unprecedented access to the rich data stream continuously produced by the telescope as it scans the sky," said Andrew Siemion, Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI at the SETI Institute and Principal Investigator for the Breakthrough Listen Initiative at the University of California, Berkeley. "This interface will allow us to conduct a powerful, wide-area SETI survey that will be vastly more complete than any previous such search," he added.
Siemion highlighted the singular role the $100-million Breakthrough Listen Initiative has played in reinvigorating the field of SETI in recent years. Siemion also announced the latest scientific results from Listen, a SETI survey in the direction of stars where a distant civilization could observe the Earth's passage across the sun, and the availability of nearly 2 PetaBytes of data from the Listen Initiative's international network of observatories.
Other indicators of possible technologies include laser beams, structures built around stars to capture the star's power output, atmospheric chemicals produced by industries, and rings of satellites similar to the ring of geosynchronous communication satellites orbiting above Earth's equator.
History of the SETI Institute
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence in Earth's Solar Transit Zone
The Detectability and Characterization of the TRAPPIST-1 Exoplanet Atmospheres with JWST (James Webb Space Telescope)
Scientists Detail the Next Era in the Search for Extraterrestrial Life
Breakthrough Listen Turns Up Nothing Around 1,327 Nearby Stars, Releases 1 PB of Data
SETI: Not Successful Because We Are Barely Even Looking?
SETI Spots Dozens of New Mysterious Signals Emanating From Distant Galaxy
Breakthrough Listen Expands CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope Survey to Encompass Millions of Stars
Receiving Messages from Aliens Could Pose a Security Risk
GPU Cryptomining Hurting SETI and Other Astronomy Projects
Breakthrough Listen to Observe Interstellar Asteroid 'Oumuamua for Radio Emissions
A New Theory on Why We Haven't Found Aliens Yet
Preliminary Results of Breakthrough Listen Project Released
Former SETI Human Wants to Send Messages to Proxima Centauri b
Are We Looking for Aliens in all the Wrong Ways?
"Breakthrough Listen" to Search for Alien Radio Transmissions Near Tabby's Star
SETI Is Investigating a Possible Extraterrestrial Signal From Deep Space
Are We Alone in the Universe?
The Director of Research at the SETI Institute proposed a broader, multidisciplinary approach to the SETI search, beyond radio and optical modalities, in an article published today in the journal Astrobiology .
"Alien Mindscapes -- A Perspective on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence" authored by Nathalie A. Cabrol, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for Research at the SETI Institute, suggests the need for a sea change in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, where the full complement of physical, biological, computer and social sciences are deployed in a quest to look for life as we do not know it. Cabrol asserts that "To find ET, we must open our minds beyond a deeply-rooted, Earth-centric perspective, expand our research methods and deploy new tools. Never before has so much data been available in so many scientific disciplines to help us grasp the role of probabilistic events in the development of extraterrestrial intelligence. These data tell us that each world is a unique planetary experiment. Advanced intelligent life is likely plentiful in the universe, but may be very different from us, based on what we now know of the coevolution of life and environment."
[...] In her paper's call to action, Cabrol promotes the establishment of a Virtual Institute with participation from the global scientific community. The new SETI Virtual Institute will integrate our new knowledge to understand who, what, and where ET can be, and step beyond the anthropocentric perspective. New detection strategies generated by this approach will augment our chances of detection by identifying new survey targets. The purpose is to expand the vision and strategies for SETI research and to break through the constraints imposed by imagining ET to be similar to ourselves. This new endeavor will probe the alien landscapes and mindscapes, and expand our understanding of life in the universe.
An international team of scientists from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is investigating mysterious signal spikes emitting from a 6.3-billion-year-old star in the constellation Hercules—95 light years away from Earth. The implications are extraordinary and point to the possibility of a civilization far more advanced than our own.
The unusual signal was originally detected on May 15, 2015, by the Russian Academy of Science-operated RATAN-600 radio telescope in Zelenchukskaya, Russia, but was kept secret from the international community. Interstellar space reporter Paul Gilster broke the story after the researchers quietly circulated a paper announcing the detection of "a strong signal in the direction of HD164595."
The mysterious star's designation is HD164595, and it's considered to be sun-like in nature with a nearly identical metallic composition to our own star. So far, a single Neptune-like (but warmer) planet has been discovered in its orbit—HD 164595 b. But as Gilster explained, "There could, of course, be other planets still undetected in this system."
Breakthrough Listen, which was created last year with $100 million in funding over 10 years from the Breakthrough Prize Foundation and its founder, internet investor Yuri Milner, won't be the first to search for intelligent life around this star. "Everyone, every SETI program telescope, I mean every astronomer that has any kind of telescope in any wavelength that can see Tabby's star has looked at it," he said. "It's been looked at with Hubble, it's been looked at with Keck, it's been looked at in the infrared and radio and high energy, and every possible thing you can imagine, including a whole range of SETI experiments. Nothing has been found."
While Siemion and his colleagues are skeptical that the star's unique behavior is a sign of an advanced civilization, they can't not take a look. They've teamed up with UC Berkeley visiting astronomer Jason Wright and Tabetha Boyajian, the assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Louisiana State University for whom the star is named, to observe the star with state-of-the-art instruments the Breakthrough Listen team recently mounted on the 100-meter telescope. Wright is at the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds at Pennsylvania State University.
The observations are scheduled for eight hours per night for three nights over the next two months, starting Wednesday evening, Oct. 26. Siemion, Wright and Boyajian are traveling to the Green Bank Observatory in rural West Virginia to start the observations, and expect to gather around 1 petabyte of data over hundreds of millions of individual radio channels.
Also at BBC.
Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner Announce $100 Million "Breakthrough Listen" SETI Project
Mysterious Star May Be Orbited by Alien Megastructures
I'm STILL Not Sayin' Aliens. but This Star is Really Weird.
A little over 80 years ago, humanity first began broadcasting radio and television signals with enough power that they should leave Earth's atmosphere and progress deep into interstellar space. If someone living in a distant star system were keeping a vigilant eye out for these signals, they would not only be able to pick them up, but immediately identify them as created by an intelligent species. In 1960, Frank Drake first proposed searching for such signals from other star systems by using large radio dishes, giving rise to SETI: the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Yet over the past half-century, we've developed far more efficient ways to communicate across the globe than with broadcast radio and TV signals. Does searching for aliens in the electromagnetic spectrum even make sense anymore ?
[...] After all, if someone from a culture that was versed only in smoke signals and drum beats found themselves deep inside the heart of a forest, they might conclude that there was no intelligent life around. Yet if you gave them a cellphone, there's a good chance they could get reception from right where they stood! Our conclusions may be as biased as the methods we apply.
[...] But if we weren't looking for electromagnetic signals, what would we look at? Indeed, everything in the known Universe is limited by the speed of light, and any signal created on another world would necessitate that we be able to observe it. These signals — in terms of what could reach us — fall into four categories:
Electromagnetic signals, which include any form of light of any wavelength that would indicate the presence of intelligent life.
Gravitational wave signals, which, if there is one unique to intelligent life, would be detectable with sensitive enough equipment anywhere in the Universe.
Neutrino signals, which — although incredibly low in flux at great distances — would have an unmistakeable signature dependent on the reaction that created them.
And finally, actual, macrobiotic space probes, either robotic, computerized, free-floating or inhabited, which made its way towards Earth.
How remarkable that our science-fiction imaginations focus almost exclusively on the fourth possibility, which is by far the least likely !
Also covered by: Three Alternate Ways Scientists Should Hunt For Aliens
Douglas Vakoch, the former Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute, is launching the METI Initiative with one planet in mind: the recently discovered planet around Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Earth (and thus the closest exoplanet.)
Vakoch says that METI has more than a few targets in mind, there are a few advantages to Proxima Centauri b.
"First, it's close to our solar system, keeping the time for a roundtrip exchange as short as possible," Vakoch says. "Second, some have suggested that this exoplanet is potentially habitable."
The team of researchers working on the Breakthrough Listen project (affiliated with SETI) has released preliminary findings after sifting through several petabytes of data obtained from three telescopes involved in the research project. The findings have been made available on the project's website as the team awaits publication of a paper in the Astrophysical Journal.
The Breakthrough Listen project was publicly announced in 2015, and has been backed by Stephen Hawking and perhaps more importantly by Yuri Milner, a Russian billionaire who, along with other backers, has put $100 million toward the 10-year project. Over the past two years, the Parkes Telescope in Australia, the Green Bank Telescope in the U.S. and the Automated Planet Finder optical telescope at Lick Observatory also in the U.S. have been dedicated to listening to radio signals emanating from space in the hope that one or more of them might be generated by alien life forms.
The team reports that to date, project members have identified 11 signals as worthy of a closer look, but at this time, do not believe any of the signals represent alien communications. They also note that the process of sifting the data is rather simple and straightforward—first, distinguish artificial signals from natural signals by looking at irregular behaviour such as modulation or pulsing patterns. The next step involves making sure any such irregularities are not generated here on Earth. The software is open source so that anyone who wishes to participate in the search can do so.
After decades of searching, we still haven't discovered a single sign of extraterrestrial intelligence. Probability tells us life should be out there, so why haven't we found it yet?
The problem is often referred to as Fermi's paradox, after the Nobel Prize–winning physicist Enrico Fermi, who once asked his colleagues this question at lunch. Many theories have been proposed over the years. It could be that we are simply alone in the universe or that there is some great filter that prevents intelligent life progressing beyond a certain stage. Maybe alien life is out there, but we are too primitive to communicate with it, or we are placed inside some cosmic zoo, observed but left alone to develop without external interference. Now, three researchers think they think they[sic] may have another potential answer to Fermi's question: Aliens do exist; they're just all asleep.
According to a new research paper accepted for publication in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, extraterrestrials are sleeping while they wait. In the paper, authors from Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute and the Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade Anders Sandberg, Stuart Armstrong, and Milan Cirkovic argue that the universe is too hot right now for advanced, digital civilizations to make the most efficient use of their resources. The solution: Sleep and wait for the universe to cool down, a process known as aestivating (like hibernation but sleeping until it's colder).
Understanding the new hypothesis first requires wrapping your head around the idea that the universe's most sophisticated life may elect to leave biology behind and live digitally. Having essentially uploaded their minds onto powerful computers, the civilizations choosing to do this could enhance their intellectual capacities or inhabit some of the harshest environments in the universe with ease.
The idea that life might transition toward a post-biological form of existence
Sandberg and Cirkovic elaborate in a blog post
The Dominant Life Form in the Cosmos Is Probably Superintelligent Robots
Where even 3 degrees Kelvin is not cold enough, do you think that we would ever make contact with any alien ?
The team's efforts will begin on Wednesday, with astronomers observing the asteroid, which is currently speeding away from our Solar System, across four different radio frequency bands. The first set of observations is due to last for 10 hours.
[...] Mr Milner's Breakthrough Listen programme released a statement which read: "Researchers working on long-distance space transportation have previously suggested that a cigar or needle shape is the most likely architecture for an interstellar spacecraft, since this would minimise friction and damage from interstellar gas and dust."
Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center, who is part of the initiative, said: "'Oumuamua's presence within our Solar System affords Breakthrough Listen an opportunity to reach unprecedented sensitivities to possible artificial transmitters and demonstrate our ability to track nearby, fast-moving objects." He added: "Whether this object turns out to be artificial or natural, it's a great target for Listen."
Scientists listening out for broadcasts by extra-terrestrials are struggling to get the computer hardware they need, thanks to the crypto-currency mining craze, a radio-astronomer has said.
Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers want to expand operations at two observatories. However, they have found that key computer chips are in short supply. "We'd like to use the latest GPUs [graphics processing units]... and we can't get 'em," said Dan Werthimer.
Demand for GPUs has soared recently thanks to crypto-currency mining. "That's limiting our search for extra-terrestrials, to try to answer the question, 'Are we alone? Is there anybody out there?'," Dr Werthimer told the BBC.
[...] Other radio-astronomers have been affected. A group looking for evidence of the earliest stars in the universe was recently shocked to see that the cost of the GPUs it wanted had doubled.
[...] Prof [Aaron] Parsons' radio telescope, the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array (Hera), is an American, British and South African project located in South Africa's western plains. [...] Three months ago, the Hera team had budgeted for a set of GPUs that cost around $500 (£360) - the price has since doubled to $1,000.
"We'll be able to weather it but it is coming out of our contingency budget." added Prof Parsons. "We're buying a lot of these things, it's going to end up costing about $32,000 extra."
When the inevitable flood of cheap GPUs onto the market happens, will it be a boon to science?
Two astrophysicists warn that passive SETI could be dangerous due to malicious code, blueprints, or ultimatums sent to Earth by aliens or alien AIs:
With all the news stories these days about computer hacking, it probably comes as no surprise that someone is worried about hackers from outer space. Yes, there are now scientists who fret that space aliens might send messages that worm their way into human society — not to steal our passwords but to bring down our culture.
How exactly would they do that? Astrophysicists Michael Hippke and John Learned argue in a recent paper that our telescopes might pick up hazardous messages sent our way — a virus that shuts down our computers, for example, or something a bit like cosmic blackmail: "Do this for us, or we'll make your sun go supernova and destroy Earth." Or perhaps the cosmic hackers could trick us into building self-replicating nanobots, and then arrange for them to be let loose to chew up our planet or its inhabitants.
Although it may be rational for us to engage trade with this alien AI, the researchers ponder the consequences if the cure for cancer involves, say, building an army of nanobots from blueprints provided by the AI. In a sort of reverse-Contact scenario, the researchers imagine a scenario in which the machine blueprints turn out to be malicious. Perhaps humans build these cancer-curing nanobots and they are actually programmed to deplete Earth of certain vital resources.
The scenarios offered by the researchers are pretty far out, but are worth taking seriously in the event we ever establish contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence. Still, that's not necessarily a reason to refrain from opening the message. "Our main argument is that a message from ETI cannot be decontaminated with certainty," Hippke and Learned conclude in their paper. "Overall, we believe that the risk is very small (but not zero), and the potential benefit very large, so that we strongly encourage to read an incoming message."
Breakthrough Listen – the initiative to find signs of intelligent life in the universe – announced today that a survey of millions of stars located in the plane of our Galaxy, using the CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope ("Parkes") in New South Wales, Australia, has commenced. Listen observations at Parkes began in November 20161, targeting a sample consisting mostly of stars within a few light years of Earth. Now, observations have expanded to cover a huge swath of the Milky Way visible from the site.
The expanded survey is made possible by new capabilities installed at Parkes by Breakthrough Listen: new digital instrumentation capable of recording the huge data rates from the Parkes "multibeam" receiver. The previous receivers used by Listen only observed a single point on the sky at a time, and were used to perform a detailed search of stars near to the Sun for evidence of extraterrestrial technology. In contrast, the multibeam receiver has 13 beams, enabling a fast survey of large areas of the sky, covering all of the Galactic Plane visible from the site.
Even if Breakthrough Listen doesn't find aliens, it is throwing a lot of well-deserved cash at astronomers and upgrading the capabilities of their telescopes.
Breakthrough Listen: Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner Announce $100 Million "Breakthrough Listen" SETI Project
"Breakthrough Listen" to Search for Alien Radio Transmissions Near Tabby's Star
Breakthrough Listen to Observe Interstellar Asteroid 'Oumuamua for Radio Emissions
CSIRO Parkes: Famous Australian 'Dish' Radio Telescope to be Emptied in Budget Crisis: CSIRO
Milky Way Obscures Hundreds of Previously Undiscovered Galaxies
New Fast Radio Burst Discovery Finds 'Missing Matter' in the Universe
Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:
The perennial optimists at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, have joined the rest of the world in deploying AI to help manage huge data sets — and their efforts almost instantly bore fruit. Seventy-two new "fast radio bursts" from a mysteriously noisy galaxy 3 billion
miles[light years] away were discovered in previously analyzed data by using a custom machine learning model.
To be clear, this isn't Morse code or encrypted instructions to build a teleporter, à la Contact, or at least not that we know of. But these fast radio bursts, or FRBs, are poorly understood and may very well represent, at the very least, some hitherto unobserved cosmic phenomenon. FRB 121102 is the only stellar object known to give off the signals regularly, and so is the target of continued observation.
The data comes from the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia (above), which was pointed toward this source of fast and bright (hence the name) bursts for five hours in August of 2017. Believe it or not, that five-hour session yielded 400 terabytes of transmission data.
Initial "standard" algorithms identified 21 FRBs, all happening in one hour's worth of the observations. But Gerry Zhang, a graduate student at UC Berkeley and part of the Breakthrough Listen project, created a convolutional neural network system that would theoretically scour the data set more effectively. Sure enough, the machine learning model picked out 72 more FRBs in the same period.
That's quite an improvement, though it's worth noting that without manual and traditional methods to find an initial set of interesting data, we would have little with which to train such neural networks. They're complementary tools; one is not necessarily succeeding the other.
-- submitted from IRC
[An] upcoming study in The Astronomical Journal, which we learned about from MIT Technology Review, suggests humanity has barely sampled the skies, and thus has no grounds to be cynical. According to the paper, all searches for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, have examined barely a swimming pool's worth of water from a figurative ocean of signal space. "We haven't really looked much," Shubham Kanodia, a graduate student in astronomy who co-wrote the study, said during a NASA "technosignatures" workshop in Houston, Texas on September 26.
[...] In their study, Kanodia and his colleagues built a mathematical model of what they consider a reasonably sized cosmic haystack.
Their haystack is a sphere of space nearly 33,000 light-years in diameter, centered around Earth. This region captures the Milky Way's bustling core, as well as many giant globular clusters of stars above and below our home galaxy.
They also picked eight dimensions of a search for aliens — factors like signal transmission frequency, bandwidth, power, location, repetition, polarization, and modulation (i.e. complexity) — and defined reasonable limits for each one. "This leads to a total 8D haystack volume of 6.4 × 10116m5Hz2s/W," the authors wrote. That is 6.4 followed by 115 zeros — as MIT Technology review described it, "a space of truly gargantuan proportions."
Astronomers have come up empty-handed after scanning the heavens for signs of intelligent life in the most extensive search ever performed.
Researchers used ground-based telescopes to eavesdrop on 1,327 stars within 160 light years of Earth. During three years of observations they found no evidence of signals that could plausibly come from an alien civilisation.
[...] During the three-year effort, the astronomers scanned billions of radio channels and filtered out any signals that appeared to come from nature or equipment on Earth. Having dismissed millions of signals this way, the team was left with only a handful of "events". On closer inspection, these too turned out to have prosaic explanations.
The Breakthrough Listen team described their latest attempt to track down ET in two papers released on Tuesday, which made all the data available to the public. "There could be a signal in the data that we didn't detect this time around, but others can now look through it to see if we missed anything," Price said.
[Editor's note: We have been unable to corroborate this story from GHacks. A search on Google has found there are other reports of this, but they all refer to a forum that no longer corroborates this report. It seems there was — something — but that it is not now visible on their site. See, too, the "Previously" section at the bottom which suggests this story may be in error. Can any Soylentil shed some light on this? --martyb]
SETI@Home will go into hibernation on March 31, 2020. The distributed computing project was launched in 1999 to analyze data provided by the radio telescope Arecibo in Puerto Rico. Later on, data from the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and Parkes Observatory in Australia were added.
SETI@Home -- SETI stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence -- broke down the signals into packets which it then distributed to connected computer systems. These computer systems, often operated by volunteers from around the world, would then be used to analyze the data and transfer results back to the project.
[...] The project maintainers at UC Berkeley provide two reasons for the decision:
- The project is "at a point of diminishing returns" as it has "analyzed all the data" that is needed "for now".
- Managing the distributed processing of data is a lot of work and time is required to complete the "back-end analysis of the results" that have been obtained already.
Hibernation means that the project is not disappearing from the face of the earth. The project website and forums remain open and the distributed computing resources of SETI@Home may be used by other scientific research projects to focus on areas such as "cosmology or pulsar research". Seti@Home may start distributing work again if that happens and the project team will make an announcement if a new research project has been found.