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Breakthrough Listen Data Becoming Available

Andrew Siemion (Berkeley SETI Research Center) presented results from the first year of the Breakthrough Listen initiative last Thursday at the Breakthrough Discuss meetings in Palo Alto. The data can be acquired here, with the caveat that file sizes can be gigantic and the data formats demand specialized software. Background information and details are available on this BSRC page. Working with the Parkes instrument in New South Wales as well as the Green Bank telescope in West Virginia and Lick Observatory’s Automated Planet Finder on Mt. Hamilton in California, the project is rapidly amassing petabytes of data.


Image: The largest single-dish fully steerable radio telescope began operation in 2000 August in Green Bank, West Virginia, USA. Dedicated as the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, the device weighs over 30 times more than the Statue of Liberty, and yet can point anywhere in the sky more precisely than one thousandth of a degree. The main dish is so large that it could house a football game, allowing it to hear even the faint murmurs of quasars located across the universe. Credit: NRAO / NSF.

A paper analyzing 692 stars from the first year of Green Bank data as examined by the Berkeley SETI Research Center science team has been submitted to The Astrophysical Journal covering frequencies from 1.1 to 1.9 GHz. Here we get 400 total hours of observing time comprising 4798 individual observations, with 8 petabytes of raw data acquired. And while the 11 highest ranking events have been getting their share of publicity (you can see the list here, with additional data), the fact is that we have no SETI detections here.

“With the submission of this paper, the first scientific results from Breakthrough Listen are now available for the world to review,” said Dr. Siemion. “Although the search has not yet detected a convincing signal from extraterrestrial intelligence, these are early days. The work that has been completed so far provides a launch pad for deeper and more comprehensive analysis to come.”

Early days indeed, given the magnitude of the challenge, and of course when it comes to doing good science, data rather than preferences or hunches are what we need. Thus SETI is all about the patient accumulation of such data, even as we continue to work the intellectual riddle of possible intelligence elsewhere. We’re making good progress on such key Drake Equation questions as the percentage of stars with planets and the frequency of planets in the habitable zone, but other issues remain completely opaque, including the frequency of life’s emergence and the longevity of a technological civilization.

My own hunch, for what it’s worth, is that it’s the second of these two issues that is the deal breaker.

I hope Breakthrough Listen will prove me wrong. This is a 10-year initiative that will survey the 1,000,000 closest stars to the Earth, while also scanning the center of the Milky Way and the galactic plane as well as examining the 100 galaxies closest to us. We’ll continue to keep a close eye on its proceedings given that the survey covers ten times more of the sky than previous SETI programs and five times more of the radio spectrum at hitherto unrivaled speeds.

The project is also deeply invested in optical SETI, carrying out spectroscopic searches for optical laser transmissions that, according to the project’s founders, can detect a 100 watt laser at the distance of the Alpha Centauri stars. I notice that both Shelley Wright (UCSD) and David Williams (Arizona State) addressed the optical issue at Breakthrough Discuss, with Wright giving the overview of searches in the optical and near-infrared and Williams talking about using telescopes designed for gamma-ray observations to detect engineered optical flashes.

Because I was forced by schedule conflicts to miss Breakthrough Discuss this time around, let me at least post clips from the Breakthrough Initiatives news releases on the conference for a bit more detail. I hope many of you were able to follow the proceedings online. Centauri Dreams reader John Walker reminds me of this significant fact: “Worth noting that in contrast to last year recordings of the proceedings are on offer. For anyone interested in (re)seeing the presentations visit Breakthrough’s Facebook page here: https://m.facebook.com/BreakthroughPrize/video_grid/?ref=page_internal.”



The first day of Breakthrough Discuss 2017 explored planets around nearby stars and their potential for life. Charles Alcock opened the conference with the statement that, “The far-fetched ideas of today are the discoveries of tomorrow,” and Peter Michelson emphasized that the last century of scientific investigation has transformed questions about origins from the realm of metaphysics to a place where they can be investigated observationally.

Three of the participants — exoplanet hunters extraordinaire Guillem Anglada-Escudé, Natalie Batalha, and Michaël Gillon — were recognized at the start of the program for making the 2017 TIME 100, TIME magazine’s distinguished list of the world’s most influential people. Anglada- Escudé served as the keynote speaker on Thursday, and Gillon will serve as the keynote speaker on Friday.

Speakers in the first session described the state of the art in observations of planets around nearby stars. Getting pictures of planets is difficult, and most are found using indirect methods. These methods have shown that most stars have planets in short-period orbits, and since most stars in the galaxy are red dwarfs, these provide promising targets when searching for habitable worlds. Many planets around these stars have recently been reported, including Proxima Centauri b, and LHS 1140 b and the TRAPPIST-1 system. Although red dwarfs have high X-ray and UV radiation, and planets around them are more likely to be tidally locked (with one side always in fierce daylight, and the other in cold night), they are long-lived stars, potentially allowing plenty of time for life to arise.


Image: This illustration shows the seven TRAPPIST-1 planets as they might look as viewed from Earth using a fictional, incredibly powerful telescope. The sizes and relative positions are correctly to scale: This is such a tiny planetary system that its sun, TRAPPIST-1, is not much bigger than our planet Jupiter, and all the planets are very close to the size of Earth. Their orbits all fall well within what, in our solar system, would be the orbital distance of our innermost planet, Mercury. With such small orbits, the TRAPPIST-1 planets complete a “year” in a matter of a few Earth days: 1.5 for the innermost planet, TRAPPIST-1b, and 20 for the outermost, TRAPPIST-1h. This particular arrangement of planets with a double-transit reflect an actual configuration of the system during the 21 days of observations made by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope in late 2016. The system has been revealed through observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the ground-based TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope) telescope, as well as other ground-based observatories. The system was named for the TRAPPIST telescope. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The difficulty of imaging planets even around nearby stars is compounded when trying to measure their colors to find indications of life. But, as Mercedes López-Morales described, telescopes that will come online in the mid-2020s will have the capability to detect “biosignatures” in exoplanet atmospheres. By looking for signatures of oxygen and methane, that are naturally destroyed over time if not replenished by such processes as living organisms, perhaps in the next 10 to 15 years we will have found another world where humans could breathe.

Zachary Berta-Thompson noted that 70 years of observations of Pluto saw it simply as a point of light, until the New Horizons probe gave us in-situ measurements of Pluto as a world in its own right. He encouraged the audience to ponder what in-situ observations of habitable zone planets around nearby M-dwarfs might be possible in 70 years’ time.

The second session focused on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence around nearby stars. Andrew Siemion described analysis of the first year of Breakthrough Listen observations of around 700 nearby stars, placing sensitive limits on the presence of engineered emission from these targets, and Danny Price discussed Listen observations of Alpha and Proxima Centauri. Shelley Wright discussed searches in the optical and near-infrared, and David Williams described a novel use of telescopes designed for gamma-ray observations to detect rapid optical flashes. Although no convincing signs of extraterrestrial intelligence have yet been found, the speakers and audience expressed optimism and enthusiasm for what would be possible with the next generation of searches.

The second and final day of the conference, to be held on Friday, April 21, will assess the significance of the newly discovered exoplanets for the long-term Breakthrough Starshot endeavor, a program spearheaded by Yuri Milner to develop a practical interstellar space probe.

As the closest known exoplanet, Proxima b is the current primary target for Starshot, which aims to develop the technology to send gram-scale spacecraft travelling at 20 percent of the speed of light to Alpha Centauri, some 4.367 light-years away. Starshot mission leaders Avi Loeb, Philip Lubin and Zac Manchester are among the distinguished participants at Breakthrough Discuss.


And here is the Breakthrough Initiatives news release for the second day.



Two-day conference brought together the world’s leading astronomers, engineers, astrobiologists, and astrophysicists for conversations on recent discoveries and future endeavors

PALO ALTO, CALIF. – April 21, 2017 – Day Two of Breakthrough Discuss opened with Michaël Gillon describing the discovery of TRAPPIST-1, which has seven temperate planets, including three in the habitable zone. The planets were discovered using small ground-based telescopes, and Gillon noted that on initial viewing of the data, there were “so many transits we couldn’t make sense of them.”

Gillon described how observations from several telescopes were used to study the TRAPPIST-1 system, including Kepler to confirm the existence of the planets, and Spitzer to figure out their orbits. Similarly, a suite of telescopes, including Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope, could be used in the future to search for signs of water and atmospheres on planets that may be detected by the next generation of giant ground-based telescopes.

The morning continued with a panel on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The wide-ranging discussion, chaired by the SETI Institute’s Jill Tarter, discussed how studies of unexplained phenomena might lead to new discoveries in astrophysics, or possible evidence of activity by civilizations inhabiting other star systems. From the odd variations in brightness of a star studied by Tabetha Boyajian, to searches by Beatriz Villarroel for stars that might suddenly disappear, panelists described a variety of creative ways to search large, time-domain survey datasets for events of interest. Panelist Lucianne Walkowicz described how modern machine learning algorithms could allow us to look for strange behavior in data without making presuppositions about the kinds of signals extraterrestrials might generate. Jason Wright emphasized that a great deal of work is required to rule out natural astrophysical explanations before resorting to claims of intelligent aliens, and described an upcoming revision to the Rio Scale that is used to assess the credibility of ET claims.

The afternoon sessions focused on the ambitious Breakthrough Starshot plan to send spacecraft to nearby stars. Avi Loeb described how a gram-scale camera attached to a sail propelled by a powerful ground-based laser beam might reach Proxima b during our lifetime, traveling at 20 percent of the speed of light. Feasibility studies will be completed during the next five years, potentially leading to the construction of a kilometer-scale ground station, and the launch of many small, relatively inexpensive spacecraft to explore nearby star systems.

Philip Lubin described how this technology could enable craft to travel from Earth to the Moon in an hour, to Mars in under a day, and to nearby stars in a couple of decades. He talked about the materials science and engineering challenges in designing a sensor package to fit on a thin silicon wafer, and returning data to Earth, but was optimistic that ongoing technological developments would make this “watershed moment in human history” possible in the near future.

René Heller described a “photogravitational assist” technique that might enable a spacecraft traveling at 20 percent of the speed of light to use photons from the Alpha Centauri system as a brake to enter orbit rather than flying rapidly by. The session’s other speakers discussed how a suite of observations, both remote, and in-situ, could detect spectral features of vegetation, light glinting from oceans, and signs of water and oxygen in planetary atmospheres. The conference closed with a panel on science goals and instrumentation for Breakthrough Starshot.

In total, the two-day event featured three sessions of 19 presentations and 15 panelists. The first day, Thursday, April 20, featured a session that focused on recent observations of nearby planets, including Proxima b, and new techniques for observing them. A second session on Thursday examined the possibility of intelligent life in Earth’s cosmic neighborhood, and recent attempts to search for it with Breakthrough Listen.

The conference was broadcast on Facebook Live at www.Facebook.com/BreakthroughPrize. Viewers from around the world were able to join in the conversation and submit questions, which were answered by the panelists in real-time.

Breakthrough Discuss was hosted by Stanford University’s Department of Physics and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and sponsored by the Breakthrough Initiatives.

Breakthrough Discuss is an annual academic conference focused on life in the Universe and novel ideas for space exploration.

Breakthrough Initiatives are a suite of scientific and technological programs exploring the big questions around life in the Universe, such as, Are we alone? What are the nearest habitable planets? And can we become an interstellar civilization?

For more information see https://breakthroughinitiatives.org


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • john walker April 24, 2017, 12:19

    It’s worth noting that in contrast to last year recordings of the proceedings are on offer. For anyone interested in (re)seeing the presentations visit Breakthroughs Facebook page here. https://m.facebook.com/BreakthroughPrize/video_grid/?ref=page_internal

    • Paul Gilster April 24, 2017, 14:40

      Good point, John, and one I neglected in the post, so I’ve just inserted it there. Thanks.

  • Tom Mazanec April 24, 2017, 13:06

    Personally, I think abiogenesis is hyper-astronomically unlikely (see http://www.unamsanctamcatholicam.com/apologetics/84-contra-atheism/580-alien-civilizations.html) but I could be wrong :-)

    • Adam April 24, 2017, 16:24

      The problem with all such claims is that they’re essentially arguments from human ignorance. The people who’ve worked out the processes that make biochemical precursors of life have found no show-stoppers, and examples of self-replicating ribozymes have been found in labs. Biochemistry doesn’t show anything against abiogenesis. Thus, even if the odds of random concatenations of nucleotides forming viable lifeforms seem immense, the perception may well be misleading. We can’t presently estimate how many possible viable self-replicators there might be or how simple the initial replicators can be.

      What we do know is that information can be multiplied once self-replication and selection come into the picture. Contra all the claims that ‘information’ obeys conservation-laws like thermodynamics, we know it doesn’t quite work that way.

    • Alexander Tolley April 24, 2017, 17:17

      This is really just a rehash of the statistical improbability argument. In this case based on no empirical data.

      Life climbs “Mount Improbable” as Dawkins would say, because selection works.

      Labs are getting ever closer to showing that simple precursors can jump on that selection escalator. Unless one posits panspermia (in which case we are not alone) or divine intervention (in which case why did God stop after one experiment?) life arose on Earth very quickly.

      If, a very big if, we should find a second genesis in our solar system, then I would call it for life being ubiquitous in the universe. Failure to find such a second genesis would not imply the reverse, however.

  • Harry R Ray April 24, 2017, 17:07

    Good to FINALLY see results from the Proxima Centauri radio/microwave observations! It’s been a REALLY LONG TIME since they were made. Now that they ARE public, I hope some dedicated researcher data-mines it and does a REAL DETAILED EXAMINATION of the data in hope of finding some NATURAL emissions that can be PROVEN to be coming from the planet ITSELF! I know that this a long shot, but radio emissions as a result of aurorae or microwave “water-maser ” emissions MAY be hidden in the data. ALSO: I hope that during the LHS 1140b discussions, particular attention was paid to the “generally accepted” vs the “low-end”(Kipping-Chen)thresholds for rocky vs gassy planets, PARTICULARLY whether LHS 1140b is a VERY RARE EXCEPTION(like Kepler 10b) or COMMON upper-end rocky planet. KEEP IN MIND: FURTHER observations with SST or ground based telescopes tend to find that a planet of this type will GENERALLY have a slightly LARGER radius than the one stated in the original discovery paper. CASE IN POINT: Kepler 186f, Gliese 1132b, and 55 Cancri e. My guess is that the FINAL radius will be in the 1.55-1.65 Re range, instead of 1.43Re. If this is due to the star being larger than it is thought to be now, it would put the planet in the optomistic “inner” habitable zone instead of where it is now. However, if a potential radius increase is due to a larger number of observations with more sensitive equipment, it will STILL pass the “not a gassy planet” test. The CURRENT density is greater than 12gcm3, and it seems to be without BOTH a deep ocean and a deep Hydrogen envelope. A radius of 1.5 to 1.55Re would mean that it would most likely be a deep world gurdling “ocean planet” with the ocean being in contact with a rocky surface. A radius of 1.55-1.6 Re would mean that there is a thick layre of ice-7 SEPARATING the liquid ocean from the rocky surface. A radius of 1.6-1.65 Re would mean that the planet would be a “transitional body” between rocky and gassious and all bets on potential habitability would be off! The FINAL ANSWER TO THIS will have HUGE IMPLICATIONS for the Drake Equation!

    • Harry R Ray May 14, 2017, 14:10

      This is now EXTREMELY IMPORTANT!!! The radio telescope Cosmovici et al used to detect water maser emmission from Epsilon Eridani, Lallande 21185, and Gliese 581 is located on the island of Sardinia, and can observe Proxima Centauri only a few days every year. It will take DECADES for this scope to get any MEANINGFUL data.

  • Alexander Tolley April 24, 2017, 19:28

    In terms of search time, Jill Tarter made this analogy:

    If the universe was the earth’s oceans, we have only searched 1 cupful. She indicated that we might need to search 1/2 the oceans. That ratio is about 10^22 x (This makes for great job security.)

    If search capability doubled every year, and all our searching to date was collapse to 1 year, this would now represent 73 years of search. Still a great job security, but at least it might start to put a bound on the non-signaling time by the anti-METI folks.

    The search for biosignatures was more time optimistic, suggesting we would have evidence in 10-20 years. That would be wonderful, especially if one was found on an exoplanet fairly close by. This would surely stimulate a desire to investigate with probes.

    • ljk April 25, 2017, 10:14

      Anyone interested in the real history of SETI needs to read this online document:


      Most SETI efforts have been token ones at best running on shoestring budgets and looking at only a few types of communication in the electromagnetic spectrum. And until recent years most of the searches have been aimed at finding beings not too different from ourselves, which may make sense in terms of the limited technologies and efforts we have been doing with SETI, but not in the wider reality of what could be out there.

      Yes it has been better than not searching at all, but now that we are a bit wiser and less constrained than back in the Project Ozma, let’s start really expanding our search efforts while keeping in mind that $100 million will not last indefinitely. Otherwise it will be another 60 years of more token efforts and null results because we keep looking for versions of us.

  • Joe April 24, 2017, 22:58

    I once did an admittedly amateur statistics test. I used a statistics website to determine how many stars you would have to survey (and get negative results) in order to be 95% certain that no stars in the galaxy are emitting signals from an ET civilization. I assumed 100 billion stars in the galaxy. I was shocked to discover that you only have to survey a little less than a thousand stars (and get all negative results) to be 95% certain that you’d get negative results from all the remaining starts as well.

    Of course the key here is how you define “survey.” There are numerous ways to search for signals from a given star, whereas my little stat test only assumes one type of search. So I tend to agree with Alexander. SETI has job security for some time to come.

    And if just one signal in a 100 billion are legitimate, it will change astronomy as much as Copernicus did.

    • Alexander Tolley April 25, 2017, 12:06

      And of course, we won’t detect civs that are just listening, or are transmitting using non-em techniques, or have gone silent.

      The galaxy might just be littered with the archaeological remains of dead civs that we won’t detect by listening. Or the galaxy may have lots of pre-technological life, or low tech civs. We need to explore out there, not just listen from our armchairs at home.

      • RAS April 28, 2017, 15:29

        The other problem is we keep looking for little grey men, instead we may be better off looking for little grey boxes if it is actually fairly common that biological life is supplanted by machine life.

        • ljk April 28, 2017, 16:48

          Which is why I noted above in this thread that SETI has long been about finding versions of humanity rather than seeking the truly alien. That and if the advanced ETI are Artilects then we can add to the numerous lists of reasons why SETI as we have and do conduct it has yet to succeed.

  • Andrew Palfreyman April 25, 2017, 3:09

    I would have liked to have seen more technical detail from Lubin and Manchester, and more on their developmental roadmaps.

  • Michael Spencer April 25, 2017, 9:34

    Thank you, Paul, for this excellent coverage. Much appreciated.

    • Paul Gilster April 25, 2017, 13:05

      You’re more than welcome, Michael. But I plan to be back out there in person for Breakthrough Discuss 3.

  • ljk April 25, 2017, 10:07

    No Aliens Yet, but Breakthrough Listen is Still Fascinating Philanthropy

    Tate Williams

    April 24, 2017

    Science takes time, and you never quite know what’s going to happen along the way. That’s a sentiment researchers echo often, and a calling card of some of the more interesting science philanthropy efforts.

    The Breakthrough Initiatives, a suite of space-related philanthropic projects backed by Yuri and Julia Milner, push that concept quite far, backing efforts that may not see desired outcomes for decades, if ever.

    Take, for example, an announcement made last week at the second annual Breakthrough Discuss, a related conference dedicated to life in the universe and space exploration. The take-home message on Breakthrough Listen’s first year of hunting for signals of intelligent life in the universe is, more or less, we didn’t find anything.

    But that’s kind of a snarky way to characterize the announcement, since the project, led by the UC Berkeley SETI Research Center and funded by Milner, is really just getting started. These findings come from listening to a sampling from almost 700 stars, and Breakthrough Listen is targeting 1 million stars for possible radio signals that might indicate life beyond our planet. So go easy on them, there’s a lot of stars out there. And a lot of data to sift through—the first year of observation collected eight petabytes of raw data (8 million GB).

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    The lack of positive results may make for a non-story or a silly headline, but it does make for pretty compelling philanthropy. That’s because Breakthrough is continuing a large funding commitment for something that didn’t find much of note in a year, and it will do so for another year, and another year, and another.

    When Milner announced the project in 2015, alongside board member Stephen Hawking, he set an initial $100 million, 10-year commitment to Breakthrough Listen. But he also said in interviews that he had no intention of stopping after that, and that, “This thing can go on forever.” That’s an important sentiment because, as this XKCD cartoon illustrates so well, this is a project that is important, but seems absurd when scrutinized at the usual human scale. Even at a time when we’re seeing major strides in our understanding of habitability beyond our solar system, this work can seem very, well, distant.

    For that reason, SETI, as long as it’s been around in some form for decades now, has always limped along in terms of funding. It’s a hard sell for support from government agencies (especially lately), or industry, or even the large majority of foundations, for that matter.

    Philanthropy can be a results-obsessed field, and amid trends like strategic philanthropy and effective altruism, there’s something that can be learned from an initiative like Breakthrough Listen, even outside of science funding. Granted, Breakthrough is presenting rigorous data at regular intervals, and a lack of discovery still has scientific importance. But at the end of the day, it’s a long-term commitment that is totally cool with the possibility of finding nothing. Or at least the idea that it has no idea what the results will be.

    Strategy is important, but whether you’re talking about grassroots organizing, the arts, climate change, or really any work seeking systemic change, there’s something valuable in philanthropy that may not yield clear, linear results. Not in a year, maybe not in a lifetime.

    • Robert G April 25, 2017, 17:33

      The xkcd refered to:

      Two ants talking to each other, “We’ve searched dozens of these floor tiles for several common types of pheromone trails. If there were intelligent life up there we would have seen its messages by now.”

      Caption, “The world’s first ant colony to achieve sentience calls of the search for us.”

      • ljk April 25, 2017, 21:03

        Yes, this one:


        That an alien mind might conduct a search for other minds in the Cosmos in a different way than we do (Human SETI still loves radio waves, but finally its practitioners are starting to look outside the electromagnetic spectrum box, or at least in other less studied areas of the EMS) is certainly plausible.

        Even in the pre-Ozma days, intense light beams and other visible light methods of communication were considered just as much as radio, perhaps in some case even more so: One of Optical SETI’s early champions was none other than Albert Einstein. And I love Robert H. Goddard’s idea of sending a rocket probe to Mars where as the vessel hit the Red Planet’s atmosphere and started to heat up, layers of its heat shielding would make different images of predesigned constellations and perhaps mathematical symbols as they burned away, to alert any observing Martians that this was no ordinary natural meteorite but a visitor from Sol 3.

        The other possibility we must consider as to why SETI has yet to succeed is to wonder just how many intelligent species actually want to send messages across the stars or even consider such a thing? Look how long it took for the idea to take hold with humanity in any serious way, and we still have plenty of people who do not like the idea or never even consider it. So what might an alien mind think about space and any inhabitants it may have?

        It is one thing to dream or talk about SETI/METI and space exploration. It is an entirely different matter to get up and actually do something about it.

      • ljk April 25, 2017, 21:14

        This work may be from 1992, but it still covers SETI/METI bases that have yet to be properly utilized:


        Here was a genius who really thought outside the box and in the early modern SETI days no less:


  • RobFlores April 25, 2017, 11:18

    I’d like to point out that there are one or two possibilities for accounting of
    such a loud silence between the stars. Both deal with Planetary development.

    A) Out planet’s Iron core is rather large. It theorized that Theia (the body that models say struck the Earth Early in its formation) injected and merged it’s core with the young Earth. The blow off debris, was substantial it was not just what formed the moon. So our mantle/upper crust thickness is less than would be expected. A smaller less energetic core might have shutdown the recycling of materials, a billion years ago.

    B) Plate Tectonics appear to become active some 2.5 billions years ago. There are models that say the appropriate thickness of core and mantle and crust caused the start up. This created many new environments for primitive life to evolve, and take advantage of.

    If A is extremely rare in the details, (angle of hit, position of hit)
    Or B needs finicky parameters. You can quickly eliminate a vast number terrestrial sized worlds that are not going develop advanced multicellular organisms

    I don’t know what the situation would be if we were to scale up the Earth
    while maintaining the core/mantle/crust ratio. Even planets at 1.2 RE or .8 RE size means a Scale up in size to around double or Half volume of Earth respectively. What is the geophysical /atmospheric impact?

  • DJ Kaplan April 25, 2017, 12:05

    Hasn’t there been some interesting work done with Venus, comparing the data we have gathered from orbiting that planet versus the data we gather when we see her transit our sun? I think there has, of course, a lot of work done viewing our Earth from a distance as it transits the sun as well?

  • Michael Fidler April 26, 2017, 10:53

    I’ve been thinking about the earlist transmissions from Earth that might be strong enough to be seen by advanced civilazations. The earlist and probable not much better then static is Tesla’s early experiments, but I was suprised to find many early experimential TV boardcast were done in the UHF band in the mid 20’s to the mid 30’s. Early radars where being used before the 2nd world war, but what may be the most powerful becons are the early NORAD/Air Traffic Control radars. These systems were developed in the mid 50’s to counter the Russian bombers threat to the US. The ballistic missile radars were much stronger but they were pointed towards the north and would not have covered very much of the sky. The many NORAD surveillance radars where sending out a rotating pencil beam that as the earth rotated would cover all the heavans as far south as 60 degrees south. Any extraterrestrial civilazations would look at these as repeating becons and would mimic them in response.

  • Michael Fidler April 26, 2017, 23:39

    Some info on the long range radars that are still being used today in the US:
    Atlas of Radar Coverage of Lower 48
    CONUS Border States At 500’ and 1000’




    History of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)

    Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE)

    I worked at the 25th NORAD region at McChord Air Force Base, near Tacoma, Washington when in the Air Force in 1976-1980. The SAGE vacuum tube computer was made by IBM and was the largest computer ever built.

  • ljk April 28, 2017, 9:26

    SETI may look at one million Milky Way galaxy star systems by 2037:


    To quote:

    “This experiment will only succeed if we can look at about a million or so star systems,” Shostak told the committee. “That would have taken thousands of years with the current technology. Thanks to improvements, mostly in computers, that is speeding up by orders of magnitude. Over next 20 years we will be able to look at about a million other star systems.”

  • ljk April 28, 2017, 9:35

    This article just reeks of fear from the scientists who wrote the paper being reported on to the media person who came up with the title of this piece:


    Humans still fear the idea of someone bigger, smarter, and better than them. Let’s keep those aliens far, far away, so our species can still think we are the real reason that a 13.8 billion year old Universe with over two trillion galaxies full of hundreds of billions of star systems each exists.

  • Harry R Ray April 28, 2017, 10:01

    They better make sure that ALL OF THE SPACECRAFT pass Proxima b OUTSIDE of its orbit! There APPEARS to be a disk of warm dust INTERIOR(!?) to Proxima b’s orbit. For details, see my latest comment on the “More work on TRAPPIST-1 post on this website.

    • RAS April 28, 2017, 15:32

      Or we are surrounded by intelligent machines who don’t want to talk to meat bags like us to paraphrase Bender from Futurama.

      • ljk April 28, 2017, 16:51

        Ever wonder what all the dark matter might really be? Kardashev Type 3/4 Artilects?

        • Harry R Ray May 16, 2017, 9:35

          Contained ENTIRELY INSIDE Matrioshka Brains?

      • Alexander Tolley April 28, 2017, 17:15

        That may be true. However, we can still search for unintentional signals from leakage and from any source from comms to power beaming.

        Bear in mind that we also spend time working with lower animals down to bacteria. Some of that work might appear as communication to them. The same thing might be applicable to us.

  • ljk May 2, 2017, 9:42

    Some recent SETI and METI arXiv papers that may have been missed:

    Prior Indigenous Technological Species

    Jason T. Wright

    (Submitted on 24 Apr 2017 (v1), last revised 30 Apr 2017 (this version, v2))


    Signal coverage approach to the detection probability of hypothetical extraterrestrial emitters in the Milky Way

    Claudio Grimaldi

    (Submitted on 13 Apr 2017)


    Pulsar positioning system: A quest for evidence of extraterrestrial engineering

    Clement Vidal

    (Submitted on 5 Apr 2017)


    DSN Transient Observatory

    T.B.H. Kuiper, R.M. Monroe, L.A. White, C. Garcia Miro, S.M. Levin, W.A. Majid, M. Soriano

    (Submitted on 2 Mar 2017)


    NU-SETI: A Proposal to Detect Extra-Terrestrial Signals Carried by Neutrinos

    Ephraim Fischbach, John T. Gruenwald

    (Submitted on 10 Feb 2017)


    A VLA Search for Radio Signals from M31 and M33

    Robert H. Gray (Gray Consulting), Kunal P. Mooley (University of Oxford)

    (Submitted on 10 Feb 2017)


    Post-Detection SETI Protocols & METI: The Time Has Come To Regulate Them Both

    John Gertz

    (Submitted on 29 Jan 2017)


    SETIBURST: A Robotic, Commensal, Realtime Multi-Science Backend for the Arecibo Telescope

    Jayanth Chennamangalam, David MacMahon, Jeff Cobb, Aris Karastergiou, Andrew P. V. Siemion, Kaustubh Rajwade, Wes Armour, Vishal Gajjar, Duncan R. Lorimer, Maura A. McLaughlin, Dan Werthimer, Christopher Williams

    (Submitted on 17 Jan 2017)


    Artificial Intelligence Probes for Interstellar Exploration and Colonization

    Andreas M. Hein

    (Submitted on 24 Dec 2016)


  • ljk May 2, 2017, 10:03


    Widening Perspectives: The Intellectual and Social Benefits of Astrobiology (Regardless of Whether Extraterrestrial Life is Discovered or Not)

    Ian A. Crawford

    (Submitted on 18 Mar 2017)

    Astrobiology is usually defined as the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. As such it is inherently interdisciplinary and cannot help but engender a worldview infused by cosmic and evolutionary perspectives. Both these attributes of the study of astrobiology are, and will increasingly prove to be, beneficial to society regardless of whether extraterrestrial life is discovered or not.

    Comments: Accepted for publication in the International Journal of Astrobiology

    Subjects: Popular Physics (physics.pop-ph); Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Physics and Society (physics.soc-ph)

    Cite as: arXiv:1703.06239 [physics.pop-ph]
    (or arXiv:1703.06239v1 [physics.pop-ph] for this version)

    Submission history

    From: Ian Crawford [view email]

    [v1] Sat, 18 Mar 2017 03:23:42 GMT (528kb)


    To quote:

    The cosmic and evolutionary perspectives engendered by astrobiology (and its sister discipline of Big History) deserve to be more widely appreciated in society at large. Indeed, I argue that they ought to form part of the worldview of every educated person. Crucially, many of the societal benefits of such an expanded worldview will accrue to society even if astrobiology is not successful in its ultimate aim of discovering life elsewhere in the universe.

    Specifically, I have argued that these benefits include:

    • Stimulating the (partial) reintegration of the sciences by forcing the practitioners of different scientific disciplines to work together on highly interdisciplinary problems.

    • Breaking down (albeit again only partially) some of the barriers that exist between the sciences and the humanities as the philosophical and ethical disciplines are brought to bear on issues related to the discovery (or non-discovery) of life in the universe.

    • Enhancing public awareness of the ‘cosmic perspective’, which reveals Earth to be a very small planet adrift in the wider universe and that, to-date at least, it is the only known inhabited location in that universe.

    • Enhancing public awareness of the ‘evolutionary perspective’, which reveals that all life on Earth is related owing to its common origin and evolutionary history.

    Taken together, the last two bullet points comprise what I see as the key socio-political insight provided by the study of astrobiology and related disciplines, namely that all human beings and all human societies live on the same small planet and are related by a common evolutionary history.

    Although this perspective will already be obvious to readers of this journal, the point is that it is still far from being part of the world view of many of our fellow citizens and astrobiologists are uniquely placed to promulgate it to a wider public.

    Moreover, to my mind, this key insight implies at least two important socio-political corollaries:

    • That maintaining the continued habitability of the Earth is essential, not just for the sake of our own species, or indeed other extant species, but because (unless or until astrobiology itself teaches us otherwise) it may be that the entire future of life in the universe will depend upon it.


    • That, as a single intelligent technological species that has become dominant on a small planet of possibly unique importance to the future of life in the universe, humanity has a responsibility to develop international social and political institutions appropriate to managing the situation in which we find ourselves.

    In concluding his Outline of History, Wells (1925; vol. II, p. 725) famously observed that: “human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” Such an observation appears especially germane to the geopolitical situation of the second decade of the twenty-first century, where apparently irrational decisions, often made by governments (and indeed by entire populations) seemingly ignorant of cosmic and evolutionary perspectives, may indeed lead our planet to catastrophe. In such an environment, the perspectives provided by the study of astrobiology may prove to be of transcendental importance, regardless of whether extraterrestrial life is ever discovered or not.

  • ljk May 9, 2017, 10:36

    Checking out those star systems which have ETI – in popular science fiction…


    • Harry R Ray May 15, 2017, 17:25

      107 Piscium should NOW be one of the PRIME TARGETS for ESPRESSO!!! It would only take a couple of years to find an Earth-mass planet in its habitable zone, should one exist! ESPRESSO should be also able to FINALLT RESOLVE the controversial HIPPARCOS finding(BEFORE GAIA DOES)that it is an astronomic binary with an orbital period of 0.576 years, that, for some unknown reason, RV observations have been UNABLE to refute.

  • Harry R Ray May 14, 2017, 14:30

    Here are the 11 best candidates to date, sorted by Source Name, Frequency(MHz), Drift Rate(Hz/sec), Maximum SNR: HIP17147, 1379.27751, -0.266, 25.4; HIP4436, 1380.87763, -0.507, 463.3; HIP66704, 1380.91201, -0.134, 3376.9; HIP99427, 1380.92570, -0.086, 50.2; HIP39826, 1380.92937, -0.542, 420.3; HIP20901, 1380.97122, -0.478, 84.6; HIP82860, 1381.20557, -0.335, 935.4; HIP74981, 1384.20759, -0.246, 237.7; HIP65352, 1522.18102, 0.010, 113.6, HIP45453, 1528.46054, -0.10, 32.1; HIP7981, 1621.24028, 0.660, 38.7. They are all PROBABLY due to earthly interference, but they are worthy of further investigation. I wonder in this case whether ameteurs like The SETI League could SCOOP the pros if they monitored ALL OF THESE STARS 24/7?!

    • ljk May 15, 2017, 9:09

      Does anyone know exactly how many SETI League members are conducting SETI and how often? Even in their heyday over twenty years ago it was never more than maybe two dozen and most if not all of them were looking in strictly the radio realm. Nowadays I would be surprised if it were more than a handful and of them how many are even in the ballpark of 24/7 sky coverage?

      The original SL goal had been five thousand amateur SETI stations all over Earth scanning the whole sky. Imagine how much could have been done for not just SETI but other aspects of radio astronomy, for so-called amateurs can and do make real contributions to the science because the professionals can only cover so much and are usually focused on just certain specific areas along with their instruments.

      However, without serious support or funding, there was no realistic way SL could either acquire or certainly maintain such a level of effort and cooperation. This is a symptom of a much bigger problem we have seen with SETI, which has had a temporary reprieve with Breakthrough Listen, but has anyone asked or planned how the funding will continue once the $100 million runs out? And yes, it will not last forever, it’s just that SETI isn’t used to having so much money and all at once.

      This is not a diss on The SETI League. Their goals and plans were noble, it’s just that hoping a large bunch of radio amateurs will carry on the SETI torch based on the hope they will do so mainly out of their interest and the goodness of their hearts is not a realistic understanding of how such a group and their individuals operate. We would have giant radio telescopes on the lunar farside searching for alien signals by now if humans operated the way certain people wished they behaved.

      If anything amateur astronomy needs to get with the fact that this is the 21st Century and today’s generation has a much wider range of choices and interests thanks to modern technology. There is a reason that most amateur astronomers and SETI practitioners tend to be older white males: Once this is figured out by those who care maybe more folks and a more diverse crowd at that will do more than make most people think that liking Star Trek and Star Wars makes them space science supporters.

      The SETI League Web site here:


    • Harry R Ray May 15, 2017, 17:52

      I wonder if HIP7981(107 Piscium) was one of the stars observed by Christiano Cosmovici et al that found Water Maser emmission coming from Epsilon Eridani, Lallande 21185, and Gliese 581? International Journal of Astrobiology: “Water maser emission from exoplanetary systems”. by Cosmovici C & Pogrebenko S. I hit paywall and thus I was only able to read the abstract. If any reader of this website SUBSCRIBES to this journal, please read the entire paper and report back ASAP!

  • Michael C. Fidler May 15, 2017, 10:55

    I been putting together an idea that makes some sense of two problems in astronomy – What and where is dark matter and where are all the alien civilizations. Dark matter is generally thought to be effecting the outer part of galaxies and large clusters of galaxies but does not seem to effect younger galaxies. See: https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/03/dark-matter-is-missing-from-young-galaxies/. So what should be developing as galaxies age?
    Could all this missing matter be something light Dyson Spheres that are either on the outer edge of the galaxies or far enough from the center of the galaxy as not to be effected by supernovas! If civilizations evolve as the galaxy ages where would they want to be, around stars that have a long life time, M and K dwarfs. What we should be seeing is Dyson spheres all around use but if they want to keep quit would they not develop quantum wave systems to keep the heat and there locations in stealth mode? I would think maybe the best place to look for them would be the occasional blip or occultation of stars but that could even be covered up by using quantum radiation stealth. So any ideas as to how they could be observed besides there huge mass that effects the gravity of the outlying areas of the galaxy???

    • ljk May 15, 2017, 12:14

      If you were an advanced ETI and you built and owned a whole bunch of Dyson Shells/Swarms or their equivalent, would you really be worried about hiding from others? There might be even more advanced beings, sure, but does that mean they would automatically be threats? Humans of course see anyone or anything more powerful than itself as potential threats (or something to placate via worship), but that is because of our long history dealing with each other and nature on one little planet.

      Such Dyson Shell/Swarm ETI could not possibly be bothering to hide from humanity and others like us, at least. Nor do I assume they have some kind of Star Trekkian Prime Directive. The scientist in me wants to say that the Dark Matter is some kind of natural phenomenon that we just do not understand yet, but I also want to note that if we were surrounded by really advanced minds conducting astroengineering efforts, would we realize it? Would we accept such a possibility on a wide cultural scale? I want to say the reactions to Tabby’s Star are a hopeful sign in the right direction in terms of accepting what could exist in the Milky Way galaxy, but there are still plenty of professionals who cringe at the thought of something more advanced out there. That goes for both scientists and politicians/military leaders.

  • ljk May 16, 2017, 8:52

    Searching for alien megastructures around pulsars:


    The accompanying paper online here:


    So nice to see that at least some areas of SETI are finally moving outside the box, the radio box that is. Because SETI has largely been searching for versions of humanity since 1960 and it should have been obvious long before now that if aliens exist who are like us in many ways, then they probably don’t do METI any more than we do. Nor have they spread into their solar system with any significance, nor have they sent so much as a single probe to another star.

    Better to search for the big boys on the block, the ones who have gotten past their primitive problems and truly recognize that Space is the Place and are utilizing it to their fullest extent, rather than digging up one little rock until nothing is left and then realize too late they had all these other places to utilize. We might actually learn something, if we focus enough of our SETI efforts in time.

  • Michael C. Fidler May 16, 2017, 11:30

    Yes, but do you want a bunch of ants at our picnic! What amounts to a galactic eco system, we may still be in the jungle – just in a few thousand years we have advanced from surviving in a very hostile environments to malls that care for our every needs. So how long before the human race will want a secure and plentiful life with infinite energy and materials available. Those ants will still be out there and I do not think it would be a good idea to kill them off, since mother nature has showed us time and again the consequences of our stupidity. They may look at the galaxy as the creative beauty of nature that surprises them with untold billions of lifeforms. So would we want God knows what creeping into a beautiful paradise and making a mess of our picnic! I’m sure they are well aware we are here and watch us with glee with their quantum telescopes and may even make an occasional quick visit! So why the huge mass, do we need to look for evidence of gravity being effected by them maybe even in our local solar system? Would they look like magic to us!!!

    • Michael C. Fidler May 16, 2017, 22:32

      Some interesting developments in vacuum energy and time that may be a way to look for ETI!

      How the huge energy of quantum vacuum gravitates to drive the slow accelerating expansion of the Universe

      Qingdi Wang, Zhen Zhu, William G. Unruh

      We investigate the gravitational property of the quantum vacuum by treating its large energy density predicted by quantum field theory seriously and assuming that it does gravitate to obey the equivalence principle of general relativity. We find that the quantum vacuum would gravitate differently from what people previously thought. The consequence of this difference is an accelerating universe with a small Hubble expansion rate H∝Λe−βG√Λ→0 instead of the previous prediction H=8πGρvac/3−−−−−−−−√∝G−−√Λ2→∞ which was unbounded, as the high energy cutoff Λ is taken to infinity. In this sense, at least the “old” cosmological constant problem would be resolved. Moreover, it gives the observed slow rate of the accelerating expansion as Λ is taken to be some large value of the order of Planck energy or higher. This result suggests that there is no necessity to introduce the cosmological constant, which is required to be fine tuned to an accuracy of 10−120, or other forms of dark energy, which are required to have peculiar negative pressure, to explain the observed accelerating expansion of the Universe.



      And the plot thickens!!!

      ‘Blurred times’ in a quantum world.

      Combining these principles from quantum mechanics and general relativity, the research team headed by ?aslav Brukner from the University of Vienna and the Institute of Quantum Optics and Quantum Information demonstrated a new effect at the interplay of the two fundamental theories. According to quantum mechanics, if we have a very precise clock its energy uncertainty is very large. Due to general relativity, the larger its energy uncertainty the larger the uncertainty in the flow of time in the clock’s neighbourhood. Putting the pieces together, the researchers showed that clocks placed next to one another necessarily disturb each other, resulting eventually in a “blurred” flow of time. This limitation in our ability to measure time is universal, in the sense that it is independent of the underlying mechanism of the clocks or the material from which they are made. “Our findings suggest that we need to re-examine our ideas about the nature of time when both quantum mechanics and general relativity are taken into account”, says Esteban Castro, the lead author of the publication.

      Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-03-blurred-quantum-world.html#jCp

      “Entanglement of quantum clocks through gravity.”