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Call for Papers: Searching for Life Signatures

Like astrobiology, SETI is a multi-disciplinary effort, one that pulls together our knowledge and speculation about everything from life’s origins to the development of planetary systems and the evolution of civilizations. It’s remarkable to remember that it was only fifty years ago that Frank Drake launched the enterprise by scanning a 400 kHz window for interstellar radio transmissions. Epsilon Eridani and Tau Ceti, his target stars, gave us no evidence of extraterrestrial life, but we’re continuing to refine the tools for detection.

The Allen Telescope Array is just one example of the radio telescope equipment being brought to bear. The Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) and the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) will offer new SETI options in a wide range of wavelengths. SKA will cover 70 MHz to 10 GHz, later extending up to 30 GHz, while LOFAR will survey the skies from 10 to 240 MHz. LOFAR is currently being built and will be the most sensitive radio observatory in the world until SKA comes online by 2017, with full operation by 2022.

So where does SETI stand at this juncture as we wait for the next generation of radio telescope equipment? That will be the subject of the Second IAA Symposium on Searching for Life Signatures, to be held from 6-8 October 2010 at the Kavli Royal Society International Centre (Chicheley Hall, Buckinghamshire, UK), which occurs immediately after a Royal Society meeting titled Towards a Scientific and Societal Agenda on Extra-Terrestrial Life, to be held at the same venue.

Image: The Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory. Credit: University of Manchester.

Anyone with a window for European travel this fall should consider the possibilities. The International Astronautical Congress takes place in Prague from 27 September to 1 October. Straight on to London (Chicheley Hall, a Georgian house surrounded by 75 acres of gardens and grounds, is 88 kilometers from the city) and you can attend both SETI sessions, staying either at Chicheley Hall itself or at a nearby hotel, but note that the earlier Royal Society meeting requires separate registration to reserve a place. In addition to the meetings, participants at the IAA session will have the chance to spend a day at the Jodrell Bank Observatory.

If you’re interested in participating, papers for the IAA Symposium are solicited on life and its evolution, exoplanetary science, habitability and life signatures, active and passive SETI, and the technological and societal aspects of finding extraterrestrial life and establishing contact. The Scientific Programme Committee, co-chaired by John Zarnecki, Martin Dominik, Claudio Maccone and Jean-Michel Contant, invites abstracts no longer than 400 words, to be sent by email to IAAsearchforlife@gmail.com. The deadline for receipt is 15 June, 2010.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • NS May 17, 2010, 16:00

    I guess for now it isn’t necessary to distinguish between searching for extra-terrestrial life and searching for extra-terrestrial intelligence (we know nothing about either), but at some point I think we should. Most ETL probably isn’t intelligent and may first be detected through something like spectroscopy or (for our solar system) analyzing soil samples. Unless ETL naturally communicates via radio (possible I suppose) it doesn’t seem like radio telescopes would play much of a role. ETI on the other hand may not even be biological so searches for natural life signs might not detect it.

  • Alex Tolley May 17, 2010, 17:28

    Furthering NS point, ETI may not even communicate with techniques we can detect. The history of communication with possible extra terrestrials has followed the trajectory of human technology, starting with lighting geometric fires for Martians. The SETI organization now has to contend with human technology using compression and spread spectrum techniques that will confound the simpler signal transmissions expected.

    I can’t help but reflect on Clarke’s point that we are like people listening for distant drums, while radio waves fill the ether, unperceived. Maybe ETI is radio silent for the same reasons that we are drum silent, or fire silent.

  • Carl May 17, 2010, 19:02

    LOFAR will incidentally receive the decametric emissions from Jupiter. While this is not SETI, I am reminded of Arthur Clarke’s ‘A Meeting with Medusa’ which described beings which were skinned -by evolution- with antenna arrays which provided the life energies of the largest Jovians.

    Jupiter has been conjectured to possibly harbor airborne life, touched on in this story: https://centauri-dreams.org/?p=6308

  • Eniac May 18, 2010, 11:34

    I like the idea of biological radio waves, but I believe they are even more inaccessible to evolution than wheels or nuclear power, because the high frequency amplifiers needed are way beyond what cells can do, and neither vacuum tubes nor transistors seem biologically plausible. Electric eels is the closest we have on Earth, and they are quite far from generating radio waves.

  • Bounty May 18, 2010, 23:53

    Hi Eniac, don’t count your senses just yet. I honestly wouldn’t be suprised, mother nature is quite clever. As an example, ampullae of Lorenzini. I can’t imagine what that sense feels like or what the their full potential is, but I’m guessing it could be quite interesting.

  • ljk September 7, 2012, 10:10

    A Jodrell Odyssey – Part 1 – The Discovery Centre

    by Jenny Winder on September 6, 2012

    Ever get the feeling you are being watched? Visit Jodrell Bank in Cheshire, England and that feeling is doubled and intensified by two inescapable presences. First there is the vast 76 meter Lovell Telescope that dominates the site and the second is the spirit of the man who built it.

    Sir Bernard Lovell came to Jodrell Bank in 1945, looking for a place away from the city, where the trams were interfering with the research he was carrying out into cosmic rays at the University of Manchester and it was here that he built his observatory. From the beginning he wanted to engage people with the work he was doing and the telescope he was building, that locals called “Lovell’s Contraption”. That dedication to public engagement and education continues to this day.

    The new Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre opened in April 2011 and is watched over by the Director, Dr Teresa Anderson who studied for her physics degree at Manchester, took her PhD at the University of Edinburgh before returning to Jodrell to develop and build the new Centre. She is a woman who can stretch a budget till it squeals. She has managed to take the modest funds allocated to her and create an innovative, imaginative experience for visitors. Teresa is rightly proud of the site’s accessibility as well as it’s policy of using green energy.

    She also has a wonderful eye for detail. The entrance to the Planet Pavilion is decorated with an embossed depiction of the 408 Mhz (radio continuum) map of the Milky Way. This building houses the gift shop and an inviting Cafe based on the theme of time. An array of different clocks on the wall show the passage of time on Earth, Venus (retrograde) Mars, Jupiter and a black hole.

    On the opposite wall is a timeline showing how far into the past we travel when viewing objects from Earth, one and a half [seconds] back in time when looking at the Moon, 8 minutes to the Sun and on back to the Big Bang [13.7 billion years ago]. The glass doors give a stunning view of the Lovell telescope and open onto an outdoor dining area.

    Full article here:


  • ljk September 13, 2012, 13:12

    A Jodrell Odyssey – Part 2 – The Observatory

    by Jenny Winder on September 12, 2012

    Last week we took a look at the public face of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, the Discovery Centre. But this week we get a behind-the-scenes tour of the heart of this impressive and historic observatory.

    Dr. Tim O’Brien is Associate Director of the Jodrell Bank Observatory and a Reader in Astrophysics in the School of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Manchester. As we begin our tour of the telescopes, control room and computers he explains the role of Jodrell in the historical development of radio astronomy. The Lovell telescope at the heart of the observatory, is today a Grade 1 listed building as well as being at the cutting edge of current, and indeed future, scientific research.

    Jodrell Bank was originally the site of the university Botany Department’s testing ground. The Observatory was founded by Sir Bernard Lovell when interference from trams disrupted the research into cosmic rays that he was carrying out in the School of Physics at the University’s main campus in the city. Sir Bernard moved his radar equipment to the site in 1945 to try to find radio echoes from the ionized trails of cosmic rays but instead founded a whole new area of research into meteors.

    The Lovell telescope (originally the Mark I) was the largest steerable radio telescope in the world (76.2m in diameter) and the only one able to track the launch rocket of Sputnik 1 in 1957; it is still the third largest in the world.

    Apart from tracking and receiving data from such probes as Pioneer 5 in 1960 and Luna 9 in 1966, a continual programme of upgrades enabled the scope to measure distances to the Moon and Venus and research pulsars, astrophysical masers, quasars and gravitational lenses. It has provided the most extensive studies of pulsars in binary star systems and discovered the first pulsar in a globular cluster.

    It detected the first gravitational lens and has also been used for SETI observations. Now on its third reflecting surface, a continual programme of upgrades has made it more powerful than ever.

    Full article here: