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SETI and Astrobiology: Toward a Unified Strategy

Will we recognize life if and when we find it elsewhere in the cosmos? It’s a challenging question because we have only the example of life on our own world to work with. Fred Hoyle’s The Black Cloud raised the question back in 1957, a great memory for me because this was one of the earlier science fiction novels that I ever read. I remember sitting there with it in my 5th grade class in St. Louis, Missouri, having been loaned the paperback that had begun to circulate among my fellow students. I was mesmerized by the account of life as I had never imagined it.

Hoyle, you’ll recall, creates a vast cloud of gas and dust that turns out to be a kind of super-organism, and I leave the rest of this tale to those fortunate enough to be coming to it for the first time. But we’ve had the same conversation about Robert Forward’s ‘Cheela’ recently, living as they do on the surface of a neutron star. The question is one Jacob Bronowski circulated widely through his televised series The Ascent of Man back in the 1970s:

…it does not at all follow that the evolutionary path which life (if we discover it) took elsewhere must resemble ours. It does not even follow that we shall recognise it as life — or that it will recognise us.

Let’s talk about all this in terms of astrobiology and SETI. For many of us, the two have a seamless character. Detect a radio beacon from another civilization and you have, ipso facto, detected life or, at least, a technological product that life has produced. SETI then is clearly an aspect of astrobiology, just as the discipline also takes in lichen growing around a pond, or aquatic creatures of high intelligence but no technologies. With both SETI and our search for non-technological life, we’re hoping to detect living things that evolved elsewhere.

Thus I find myself in agreement with a new white paper that has been submitted to The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine as part of the process of carrying out upcoming decadal surveys in astronomy, astrophysics and planetary science. The authors are major figures from the SETI community: Jill Tarter and John Rummel (SETI Institute); Andrew Siemion (Berkeley SETI Research Center and Breakthrough Listen); Martin Rees (Breakthrough Listen, among so many other things); Claudio Maccone (chair, IAA SETI Permanent Committee); and Greg Hellbourg (International SETI Collaboration).

Titled “Three Versions of the Third Law: Technosignatures and Astrobiology,” the document makes the case that there has arisen an artificial distinction between astrobiology and SETI, with the former deemed acceptable for funding in ways that SETI has often not been, given the controversies in its history. As evidence, take the current 2015 NASA Astrobiology Strategy document, which baldly states: “While traditional Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is not part of astrobiology, and is currently well-funded by private sources, it is reasonable for astrobiology to maintain strong ties to the SETI community.”

Strong ties are good, surely, but the distinction is artificial. In what sense is SETI not part of astrobiology? As the white paper notes, the Galileo flyby described by Carl Sagan and fellow authors in a 1993 paper in Nature found that a critical lifemarker (for both life itself and intelligent life) was the presence of narrow-band, pulsed, amplitude modulated radio signals. This is the kind of data rejected by the exclusion of SETI from astrobiology.

This delightful quote from the white paper nails the issue:

This is an arbitrary distinction that artificially limits the selection of appropriate tools for astrobiology to employ in the search for life beyond Earth, one that it is not supported scientifically. The science of astrobiology recognizes life as a continuum from microbes to mathematicians. It is time to remove this artificial barrier, and to re-integrate the community of all those who wish to study the origin, evolution, and distribution of life in the universe.

From microbes to mathematicians indeed!

This is more than a matter of splitting hairs in academic documents, for how we define things can play a major role in how we as a society fund our scientific investigations. Here I would urge you to read the paper, which you can find here — click on ‘View the Submitted White Papers.’

Bear in mind the imminence of further debate. A meeting on Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe will take place from January 16-18 in Irvine, CA, with a second meeting scheduled for March 6-8, 2018 in Washington, DC to discuss these matters. A unified astrobiology/SETI strategy may yet emerge from all this.

Background is everything in this discussion. It was in 1993 that funding for NASA’s High Resolution Microwave Survey was terminated, with SETI essentially being sent into the wilderness. The National Science Foundation actually prohibited SETI funding in language that was not removed until 2000. SETI then achieved eligibility for funding in 2001, according to NASA associate administrator Ed Weiler, even as the various astrobiology roadmaps leading up to today’s strategy at times included and at other times excluded SETI.

Similarly inconsistent have been the annual NASA funding efforts known as ROSES — Research Opportunities in Earth and Space Science. The white paper goes through the history of these changes.

There is no question that SETI has at various times become a political football, which accounts for its inclusions and exclusions from the astrobiology roadmaps of past years. We need a unified strategy sans politics. Goal 7 of previous astrobiology roadmaps has been stated as: “Determine how to recognize the signatures of life on other worlds.“ Searching for technosignatures is clearly one such method, leading the authors of the white paper to make their case:

It is time that we end this scientific schizophrenia. It is of course reasonable for a funding agency to elect not to fund any given proposal, but it is unscientific to exclude clearly related proposals from consideration. Historical politics or a perceived (but unverified) funding status from other sources should not enter into an estimation of the scientific value of an approach.

The title of the white paper, incidentally, is a nod to Arthur C. Clarke’s third law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In this case, the quote is used to explore how difficult it may be to find extraterrestrial life of any kind. If intelligent, such life might build enormous structures observable by our astronomy.

Or perhaps not: Karl Schroeder has posited that advanced technologies may be indistinguishable not from magic but from nature. In other words, the future means continual advances in efficiencies “…until our machines approach the thermodynamic equilibria of their environment, and our economics is replaced by an ecology where nothing is wasted.” That’s yet another possibility for the so-called Great Silence.

We can’t know exactly where or how to look, which is why all feasible strategies have to be on the table in the search for biosignatures as well as technosignatures. The paper concludes:

There is no scientific justification for excluding SETI, or any other technosignature modality, from the suite of astrobiological investigations. Arguments based on political sensitivities or apparent access to other funding sources are inappropriate. In this white paper, we argue for a level playing field.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Al Jackson January 12, 2018, 14:40

    ” indistinguishable not from magic but from nature.”
    Hmmm… I like the reformulation :
    “Any sufficiently advanced technology may be indistinguishable.”

    I looked can’t find out who put that forward, I love the economy.

    • Martinache January 12, 2018, 15:39

      I agree, but as far as I know, “undistinguishable” should per definition be “from something else”, since something cannot be “undistinguishable” just on its own. So I suppose the right sentence should rather be “Any sufficiently advanced technology may be undetectable”. In which case we may be facing a serious detection problem, to say the least!

      • Al Jackson January 12, 2018, 23:23

        As for ‘first contact’ many science fiction writers have covered just about all that could possibly be thought on this subject.
        My favorite is in 1954 by Fredric Brown “Martians, Go Home”. Aliens make a non violent invasion, irritate everybody, and leave, … nobody knows why they came or why they left, or what the hell they were doing here! The essence of a transcendental encounter!

        • ljk January 15, 2018, 15:07

          I thought they were a commentary on how other nations often view American tourists. :^)

    • NS January 14, 2018, 4:59

      I don’t have a link at hand, but IIRC the Russian scientist Kardashev suggested that we might have detected ETI activity already, but haven’t recognized it because we think it’s part of the natural universe.

  • Joe H. January 12, 2018, 16:09

    Paul, Any chance the meeting on Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe will be webcast like the Breakthrough Starshot conferences?

    • Paul Gilster January 12, 2018, 16:51

      I have no information on that, Joe, but will pass along anything I do hear.

  • DJ Kaplan January 12, 2018, 16:38

    Great article!
    Since we began gazing at stars, humanity has projected its expectations upon the cosmos.
    But given the vastness of the universe and the vast possibilities, only one thing is for certain: our definitions for life, intelligence and civilization will be challenged.
    We can manufacture our own definitions for life, but this definition does not constrain nature; it only constrains our understanding of the cosmos.
    The truth is undoubtedly stranger than we can imagine.

  • Andrew Palfreyman January 12, 2018, 16:39

    It may be the final ‘I’ in SETI which gives academics and politicians pause. After all, astrobiology _per se_ bears no explicit mention of intelligence, and if we wish to unify SETI and astrobiology, we need simply focus on Life rather than on Intelligence. Thus SETL.

    • DJ Kaplan January 16, 2018, 13:43

      It implies that in order for a lifeform to be detected across interstellar distances, with tools that we have, the ETs must be something that we call “intelligent”. But consider that the universe is wide with possibilities.

    • Mark Zambelli January 22, 2018, 6:38

      I think I can ‘SETL’ for that ;)

  • Michael Fidler January 12, 2018, 22:10

    There is one way we may be able to see an indication of advanced civilizations and that is looking for the ones that are not much more advance then we are. It would depend on how many and how long they would be in that juvenile stage before becoming undetectable. The older advanced civilizations may make direct contact with us but in forms that are designed to advance mankind but also to confuse the subject so that only the information gets thru. Maybe one way is to look seriously at historical accounts and recent encounters in the light of some type of contact but without the religious or pseudoscience aspect. This type of research has already been done to some extent but the scientific establishment consider it a taboo subject for numerous reasons. (Especialy SETI) If a rigorous OPEN minded study was done there may be ways to learn how to observe and study these contacts. The cost for such a study would be minimal but the outcome could include learning about working with nature and advanced magic! The big plus is the popularity of such subjects for the general world populations, instead of trying to sweep it under the rug, use it for the public support of SETI.

  • Gregory Benford January 12, 2018, 22:30

    I’m attending the Irvine meeting but there’s no internet for it.

    I prefer my addendum:
    “Any technology that does not seem magical is insufficiently advanced.” Arthur laughed a lot when I told him that.

  • Robin Datta January 13, 2018, 5:54

    Any sufficiently advanced sentience may also be undetectable – to less “advanced” sentiences, whether their substrate be biological or “post”-biological, detectable or undetectable. While a sentence may be missed in a detectable substrate, all bets are off if both the sentience and the substrate are undetectable.

  • Anton M. January 13, 2018, 8:17

    I believe that a truly non-terrestrial-chauvinistic definition of life should be based on thermodynamics-based blackbox analysis of information flow inside a system. The degree of e.g. self-reflection or control above a certain threshold should be considered an indication of life, no matter how exotic would it appear.

  • Anton M. January 13, 2018, 8:26

    P.S. I strongly disagree with the thesis what “nothing is wasted” is an indication of any advancement. Dead bodies do not waste energy, nor do minerals. Mammals waste a lot more energy compared to reptilians, and the human brain is probably the single most wasteful organ on Earth, energy-wise. If there are two competing systems, one producing more thermodynamical entropia than the other, more “wasteful” wins. Spaceflight is wasteful, navel-gazing is not. The problem is, galaxy-spanning civilization will not be built by navel-gazing.

  • James Benford January 13, 2018, 11:44

    Schroeder’s concept that in a mature advanced technology civilization, “our machines approach thermodynamic equilibrium with their environment, where nothing is wasted”
    Ultimately the energy sources for civilization are heat engines that take advantage of the heat of some process (chemical reactions, such as combustion, or nuclear reactions) at a temperature higher than the temperature to which the exhaust is expelled from the system doing the work. If there is no difference between these two temperatures then the thermodynamic efficiency is identically zero and civilization has no source of energy. So Anton M. is right to say that this advanced technology definition of is simply wrong.

    Tale the lighting of our cities, which we have all seen in photographs taken from space. The dark regions such as North Korea or the wilds of Siberia are not evidence of advanced technologies but rather the absence of such. After all, the earth didn’t have artificial lighting 10,000 years ago and therefore was largely indistinguishable from the earth of millions of years previously. Earlier organisms before humans basically just another took advantage of energy to keep their bodies going and produced no technology above very rudimentary tools. The dinosaurs were not advanced civilization. This is another wishful thinking ecofantasy. Not going to happen.

    • Alex Tolley January 13, 2018, 12:54

      @James, Anton
      The energy point is well taken, but I think you are still wrong. As you know, there is an effort to replace outdoor lighting with LEDs that do not emit any light into the sky in order to reduce night sky light pollution and let us see the stars again in cities. Similarly, in WW2, European countries blacked out their interior lights with heavy drapes and even cars had restricted emission of headlamp lights. In both cases the result is/was to darken cities from above. Your conclusion in both cases would be lack of high tech civilization, the opposite of what is/was happening in both cases.
      When energy was getting expensive in the 1970s, there was a renewal of the idea of building houses and even cities underground and returning the surface to nature. Observationally, the surface of the Earth would look less technological and energy using than with surface cities.

      There is a trend to energy efficiency to reduce waste and there may yet come a time when the Earth’s surface is allowed to become “natural” again. Both cases would make it hard to observe signs of technology without being in conflict with the physics of heat engines.

    • Michael Fidler January 13, 2018, 21:45

      Advanced civilizations may have existed a half billion years after the big bang, if the radiation levels were low enough.(If no Big Bang, much, much older.) Point being they would probably have seen earth as a great place to garden, but since the dinosaurs had some 200 million years to evolve intelligence they gave up and wiped them out for something better to come along. Now our population dinosaur threatens to destroy us from the fumes of their bodies. I would not call that eco-fantasy but Poetic justice.

      • scherben January 15, 2018, 12:27

        You seem to be implying some quasi/semi-religious notion that advanced aliens have singled out this irrelevant “blue dot” (that isn’t even visible as a ‘blue dot’ from interstellar, let alone intergalactic, distances), and are tampering with the evolution of said ‘blue dot’ with some benign purpose of raising one specially selected species (human exceptionalism?) to their ‘elevated’ level.

        Now, not only does that project a (Western?) human value judgement (the dinosaurs were incredible) onto the cosmos, there’s not one scintilla of evidence, or even reason, to think that this would be so. It would require on a practical level, a will and capability of making interstellar (Intergalactic?) travel, which is extremely problematic in itself (I’m not declaring it impossible); and an entertaining of the notion that they would even care about life forms on other planets. The ‘mind’ of an alien species, even one advanced technologically (or maybe just intellectually), may be, to quote Stephen King: “as different as our minds are from spiders.” I, personally, would favour indifference, or even complete failure to recognise us, as a more likely option than interference, or even compassion.

        Of course, the complete lack of current data, does render my entire hypothesis (if it deserves such a honorific), moot.

        • ljk January 15, 2018, 15:13

          The dinosaurs existed from 220 million BCE to 65 BCE, and continued on to the present day in the form of birds. Even if you take away the birds, that is 160 million years on this planet, a pretty darn good track record for a species that apparently didn’t have a civilized society.

          If an ETI visited Earth just before that space rock hit roughly 65 MY BCE and studied its creatures, I wonder how impressed they would have been with the contemporary mammals compared to the dinosaurs?

          I dare say if they were going to uplift anyone at the time, their version of the Monolith would have likely shown up in front of some dinosaurs, possibly the Troodon:


          Or maybe the T. Rex, because let’s face it, they were just so cool.

          • Michael Fidler January 17, 2018, 9:39

            Yes, but T. Rex arms where to short to reach the spacecraft controls. :-(

            • ljk January 18, 2018, 14:23

              They used ambulatory robots controlled by helmets with Wi-Fi.

  • Alex Tolley January 13, 2018, 13:25

    I am going to push back and suggest the white paper is special pleading for SETI funding as part of the renewed astrobiology interest.

    (…) SETI then is clearly an aspect of astrobiology, just as the discipline also takes in lichen growing around a pond, or aquatic creatures of high intelligence but no technologies.

    This is akin to saying that the humanities and engineering departments are a part of the science departments, especially biology disciplines. This is most certainly not the case for obvious reasons.

    Consider that some future Schliemann on Mars uncovers a Martian city. Would that result in a call to Lowell University biologists? No, the archaeology department would become involved. Similarly, should a “monolith” be discovered on the Moon, would a biologist be called to investigate? Clearly not.

    For targets reachable in the solar system, SETI need not be involved in the search for life. Should an artifact be found, then SETI experts should get involved.

    What about targets that are currently unreachable? The evidence of technology is not de facto evidence of life. Even if it were, the appropriate means and tools of investigation are not inherently biological, any more than a psychologist needs to understand biology to do experiments or work with a patient. Should some aspect of biology emerge, then a cross-disciplinary team would include a biologist.

    Biology has always had some ambiguity in defining its boundaries. Even at [high] school, the biology teacher raised the question of what defines “life” and it is fuzzy. Viruses were on that borderline back in the 1960’s. Combustion processes could also make the grade for inclusion. Like planetologists creating rules for planets and excluding Jupiter, biologists created some rules to try to put a boundary around what constituted life. Academic disciplines have historically, and I think rightly, excluded the cultural products of life and placed them outside the domain studied by biologists.

    This is not to say that SETI shouldn’t have a seat at the table and be funded, but rather that their projects are rather different from those of [astro]biologists. By analogy, while you might want to bring an anthropologist or linguist to a newly discovered land, if your primary goal is to find and catalog organisms like Darwin, then you really want to put your resources into supporting the tools of the naturalist. To push the analogy to breaking point, the SETI people are wanting to come along for the ride to listen for drums and look for smoke signals, even if the likelihood of a new land being inhabited is very low. However, if such signals are detected, send for the appropriate scientists and maybe communication with the inhabitants can even help with the collection of specimens.

  • Alex Tolley January 13, 2018, 14:11

    jason Wright’s whitepaper in the set “SETI is a part of Astrobiology” makes a very similar argument and claim as the Tarter et alpaper:
    Since SETI is, quite obviously, part of astrobiology, SETI practitioners should at the very least be expressly encouraged to compete on a level playing field with practitioners other subfields for NASA astrobiology resources. (emphasis Wright’s).

    I don’t agree that SETI is obviously part of astrobiology. The claim is based not or much argument, but a complaint about lack of funding from NASA and the link between the low probability of finding an intelligent artifact and the higher probability that life exists, even as current detection methods are not very good. The argument that SETI has driven technology can equally be applied to biosignature detection. So why not fund remote biosignature detection techniques and develop that technology over the next half-century?

    Again, that should not fully exclude SETI from government funding, but to claim that equal footing funding should be made for SETI because it is part of astrobiology is wrong, IMO.

  • Francisco January 14, 2018, 3:27

    That quote from Karl Schroeder “advanced life may be undistinguishable from nature” is so right-on! Never thought about that in that way. We often think of huge quantities of radio energy or light. But Karl is right, I think. What better model to emulate than nature itself, which has tested all potentials and variables for billions of years. Why would they (ET) reinvent the wheel? Happiness should surpass knowledge – for after all is worked & known comes retirement! Utopia. Great concept for sure. That ‘great silence’ is not silence, but the purring of a cat huddled in its den. The sound is muted and private – as it should be.

  • James Stilwell January 14, 2018, 11:04

    Asimov wrote a novel titled, The Naked Sun, in which 20,000 people and 400 million robots (artilects) populate an entire planet…Future spacefarers might overlook encountering such a world as being a misfit in the search for a flourishing civilization. Some people still think a civilization must surely include billions and billions of people…The earth will have a hard time feeding 25 billion in a century of two…maybe synthetic meats will rescue a protein deficient civilization such as ours…Maybe a terraformed Mars is our next continent to settle…

  • Marc Millis January 14, 2018, 12:28

    I am pleased to see well-reasoned scientific progress erode the confirmation bias against the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere. I am also relieved to see so much openness to the possibility of life and intelligence that may elude our perceptions. Such openness and systematic process bodes well that we will decipher nature as it truly is.

  • Stephen January 14, 2018, 13:27

    90% of any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from trash.

    Archaeologists might agree
    Nature often does look rather messy, like trash.

  • RobertL January 14, 2018, 20:03

    We must always guard against the danger that what we regard as absolutes are no such thing, but byproducts of human biology. To deconstruct the phrase ”technological civilization”, the beginning of civilization is a social structure which inhibits our natural impulse to murder one another. From there you get to organized exploitation of resources, which means larger populations and competition between civilizations, and war. Technology springs from successful attempts to improve efficiency of resource utilization, and from the fact that the human brain wants to be occupied at all times. A better designed brain would have an energy saving level to which it would default when there was nothing that needed thinking about. The basic first contact story says that aliens form civilizations, make spaceships using technology, and we meet up and establish to each other’s satisfaction that our similarities outweigh our differences because we agree on the value of pi. My point is that it is not obvious that technology or civilization or knowing pi cannot be taken, without argument, as universals: they may all be local side effects of biology. Navel gazing may be the rule and not the exception.

  • Alex Tolley January 15, 2018, 14:07

    The Wiley paper is very interesting. It tries to come up with a modified colonization approach that allows for sparse populations and machine replicators to explain the Fermi paradox. It even suggests that we should spend some resources looking for such replicating probes in our solar system.

    The assumption that physical colonizers, whether biological or machine, is what we expect from civilizations may be an artifact of human culture at our level of development. Civilizations in the biological stage may understand that this limits them to their home system unless a near perfect world can be “terraformed” for their colonization (assuming they don’t want artificial worlds). If “computerized” entities, they may have transcended physical presence and therefore be unobservable. Biological beings might prefer to seed worlds with simple life allowing evolution to create abiospheres adapated to their worlds. Such seeders need not be self-replicating machines but natural panspermia. Unless populations of life forms are isolated, we might expect just one successful biology to emerge on any planet, eliminating others.

    One thing that we can be sure of, civilization growth requiring increasing energy and resource use will quickly use up our galaxy in a blink of a cosmic eye. If there are other civilizations out there, they must be fairly static in resource use, likely highly efficient at recycling materials and using energy to maintain themselves. Long term growth over millions of years is unsustainable.

  • hiro January 15, 2018, 15:57

    Yeah, this reminds me a short sf story that I’ve read only once for quite some time in the public library, the name is “Hot Rock” by Egan I think, not certain because I can’t check it out again.

  • ljk January 16, 2018, 10:38

    Scientists want future space telescopes to look for risky signs of alien civilizations

    by Alan Boyle on January 15, 2018 at 10:46 am

    Global warming and nuclear blasts may be bad for humanity, but astrobiologists say they could be good indicators of the presence of intelligent life on distant worlds.

    Such signatures of risky biological behavior should therefore be included in the list of things for future space telescopes to seek out, researchers say In a white paper prepared for the National Academy of Sciences.

    The strategy would add a contemporary twist to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, reflecting the view that Earth is transitioning into a technology-driven geological era some call the Anthropocene.

    “Examining the Anthropocene epoch through the lens of astrobiology can help to understand the future evolution of life on our planet and the possible evolution of technological, energy-intensive life elsewhere in the universe,” the researchers write.

    Full article here:


    The paper is online here:


    To quote:

    The researchers also called on the NASA Astrobiology Institute to establish a focus group on Anthropocene-themed astrobiology. They said such a group could identify the
    potential “technosignatures” of alien civilizations.

    “The terraforming of otherwise uninhabitable planets within a planetary system is one example of a possible technosignature, where powerful artificial greenhouse gases may be deployed to warm a planet outside the formal habitable zone,” they wrote. “Such planets may be identified from the spectral features of greenhouse gases such as perfluorocarbons (PFCs), which are not known to otherwise occur in high abundances.”

    The identification of planetary-scale megastructures would be another example, they said. Just this month, a different team of researchers reported using telescopic observations to rule out the presence of an alien megastructure around a strangely dimming star known as KIC 8462852, or Boyajian’s Star.

    Yet another long-lasting technosignature could be the presence of radioactive compounds associated with nuclear fallout. Here on Earth, the first atomic bomb test left just such a signature in 1945, which is seen as heralding the dawn of the Anthropocene Age.

    Even if astrobiologists don’t detect the signs of energy-consuming civilizations beyond our solar system, the exercise could well yield payoffs closer to home. The authors point out that getting a better understanding of the theoretical constraints on alien civilizations — and the risks they may face — would improve policy decisions for the future of our own civilization as well.

  • ljk January 16, 2018, 10:46

    I do not hold out much hope for an ETI coming to literally save us from ourselves – and their idea of “saving” humanity could have unfortunate consequences along the lines of they mean well, but… – however, we may be able to learn from them how to survive our technological adolescence, assuming they are not too different from us.

    Could extraterrestrials help us save the Earth?

    Vikram Zutshi

    9 January 2018

    If human beings are so ineffective in confronting planetary problems, shouldn’t we seek out help wherever we can find it?


    To quote:

    In July 2015, a group led by physicist Stephen Hawking launched “Breakthrough Listen,” an initiative that’s claimed to be the largest ever scientific research program aimed at finding evidence of civilizations beyond Earth. During the launch of the initiative at the Royal Society in London, Hawking voiced his fears about what might happen in any such encounter, and why humankind needed to be much better prepared for what they might bring:

    “We don’t know much about aliens,” he told the audience, “but we know about humans. If you look at history, contact between humans and less intelligent organisms have often been disastrous from their point of view, and encounters between civilizations with advanced versus primitive technologies have gone badly for the less advanced.”

    Science journalist Ann Druyan—who was part of the announcement panel—seemed more upbeat: “We may get to a period in our future where we outgrow our evolutionary baggage and evolve to become less violent and shortsighted,” she said. “My hope is that extraterrestrial civilizations are not only more technologically proficient than we are but more aware of the rarity and preciousness of life in the cosmos.”

  • ljk January 16, 2018, 11:44

    China Ups Ante On Search for Alien Life –Another New Radio Telescope “Will Be Largest Antenna on Earth Able to Trace Origin of Any Signal”:


    To quote:

    China will have a new radio telescope to “listen” to the universe that trumps its 500-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope completed in 2016. The Chinese government has approved a plan to build the giant radio telescope in Qitai County, in the far western region of Xinjiang. Chinese scientists claim that the device, named the QTT, will be the world’s largest steerable radio telescope.

    Some strange signals have been found recently by the FAST (below), “but it’s hard to confirm their origins, because these signals do not repeat,” says Li Di, chief scientist of China’s new FAST Radio telescope. “We look for not only television signals, but also atomic bomb signals. We’ll give full play to our imaginations when processing the signals,” Li says. “It’s a complete exploration, as we don’t know what an alien is like.”

    With a dish the size of 30 football fields, China’s new FAST radio telescope, which measures 500 meters in diameter, dwarfs Puerto Rico’s 300-meter Arecibo Observatory. Having the world’s largest and most powerful new radio telescope, the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), “We can receive weaker and more distant radio messages,” said Wu Xiangping, director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society, “It will help us to search for intelligent life outside of the galaxy and explore the origins of the universe,” he added underscoring the China’s race to be the first nation to discover the existence of an advanced alien civilization.

    The world’s largest fully steerable single-dish radio telescope will be built in Qitai County in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The telescope will be 110 meters in diameter, over 100 meters tall and weigh around 6,000 tonnes. Scheduled to go into service in 2023, it will cover three-fourths of the sky.

    “The antenna, the world’s largest, will be able to trace the origins of any signals received,” said Song Huagang of the Chinese Academy of Science Xinjiang observatory. The telescope will operate at 150 MHz to 115 GHz and assist research on gravitational waves, black holes and dark matter. The Xinjiang observatory is currently equipped with a 25-meter radio telescope. The new telescope will be roughly 20 times bigger.

    The new site in Shihezi is a sparsely populated foothill of Tianshan Mountains in northeast Xinjiang. The mountain ranges surrounding the site will shield the telescope from electromagnetic noise.

    Besides the planned telescope, China is already planning or completed impressive astronomical telescopes. In 2016, the 500-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, went into service in southwest China’s Guizhou Province. China’s largest optical telescope, at 12 meters, is expected to be built in Tibet Autonomous Region. The project is included in China’s large-scale sci-tech infrastructure plan for 2016 to 2020. (Xinhua).

    The Daily Galaxy via Chinese Academy of Sciences

  • ljk January 18, 2018, 10:30

    New biggest radio telescope to help detect alien signals

    China plans to build another big radio telescope that could boost the quest to determine if we’re alone in the universe, and solve other long-standing mysteries.

    by Eric Mack

    January 17, 2018 at 2:28 PM PST


    To quote:

    Doug Vakoch of METI International, which searches for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) and develops potential messages for E.T., said this overlap is significant because it includes the so-called “water hole” of particular interest to SETI researchers.

    “It’s a quiet space between prominent spectral lines created by hydrogen and hydroxyl, the constituents of water that is so central to life on Earth,” he explained via email. “The partially overlapping frequency range of the QTT and FAST means that the detection of a candidate signal by one telescope can be followed up immediately by the other instrument, assuming the data is being analyzed in real time.”

    But the value of QTT, Vakoch adds, may not be so much in its ability to search for signs of distant advanced civilizations, but in how it will contribute to unraveling other natural mysteries of the universe. During its trial testing phase, FAST already managed to discover two pulsars.

    We’ll still have to wait to see how effective the tag-team operation of FAST and the QTT will be at picking up alien signals and who knows what else, though: QTT isn’t scheduled to go into operation until 2023.

  • ljk January 18, 2018, 10:49

    Search for Extraterrestrial Irregularities — Expanding the Spectrum for Advanced Alien Life

    January 17, 2018


    To quote:

    “Two hundred years from now, people are going to look at what we’re doing, and probably laugh and say, ‘Why weren’t they looking for tachyons, or subspace communications,’ or something like that,” says Dan Wertheimer, chief scientist for SETI at the University of California at Berkeley.

    “We’re just starting to learn how to look for, in machine learning, what’s called anomaly detection,” said Wertheimer during a presentation held at the university in conjunction with the World Conference of Science Journalists in October.

    “In anomaly detection, you classify things — ‘this is a curved signal, this is a sinusoidal signal, this is a pulsed signal’ — and if it’s not one of those things, it’ll say, ‘Hey, I found something that’s not following all these categories, this is an anomaly.’ It will alert you, and you’ll take a look at it and see if it’s interesting. We are not doing that now, we’re learning how to do that.”

  • DJ Kaplan January 22, 2018, 19:23

    I suppose anthropomorphism is inevitable.

  • ljk January 25, 2018, 11:51
  • ljk January 26, 2018, 11:14

    ‘Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence’ Needs a New Name, SETI Pioneer Says

    By Calla Cofield, Space.com Senior Writer | January 25, 2018 07:20 am ET

    IRVINE, Calif. — Astrophysicist Jill Tarter is one of the world’s best-known leaders in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI. For 35 years, she served as the director of the Center for SETI Research (part of the SETI institute) and was also the project scientist for NASA’s SETI program, before its cancellation in 1993.

    Despite her longtime association with that four-letter acronym, Tarter says it’s time for “SETI” to be rebranded.

    At a recent meeting of the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe, held here at the University of California, Irvine, Tarter explained that the phrase “search for extraterrestrial intelligence” generates an incorrect perception of what scientists in this field are actually doing. A more appropriate title for the field, she said, would be “the search for technosignatures,” or signs of technology created by intelligent alien civilizations.

    “We need to be very careful about our language,” Tarter said during a presentation at the committee meeting on Jan. 18. “SETI is not the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. We can’t define intelligence, and we sure as hell don’t know how to detect it remotely. [SETI] … is searching for evidence of someone else’s technology. We use technology as a proxy for intelligence.

    “[The acronym] ‘SETI’ has been problematic in history, and we should just drop [it] and just continue to talk about a search for technosignatures,” she said.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    The challenge of searching for alien technosignatures may be daunting, but Tarter remains unwavering in her optimism for the search for life beyond Earth.

    “In 2004, Craig Venter and Daniel Cohen made a really bold statement: They said the 20th century had been the century of physics, but the 21st century would be the century of biology,” Tarter said. “I think they were right, but I don’t think they were bold enough. Because I think the 21st century is going to be the century of biology on Earth and beyond.”

  • Harry R Ray January 31, 2018, 10:26

    Megapanspermia near the CENTER of galaxies? ArXiv 1711:06692

    • ljk February 1, 2018, 11:37


      Habitable Evaporated Cores and the Occurrence of Panspermia near the Galactic Center

      Howard Chen, John C. Forbes, Abraham Loeb

      (Submitted on 17 Nov 2017 (v1), last revised 29 Jan 2018 (this version, v2))

      Black holes growing via the accretion of gas emit radiation that can photoevaporate the atmospheres of nearby planets. Here we couple planetary structural evolution models of sub-Neptune mass planets to the growth of the Milky way’s central supermassive black-hole, Sgr A ∗ and investigate how planetary evolution is influenced by quasar activity.

      We find that, out to ∼20 pc from Sgr A ∗ , the XUV flux emitted during its quasar phase can remove several percent of a planet’s H/He envelope by mass; in many cases, this removal results in bare rocky cores, many of which situated in the habitable zones (HZs) of G-type stars.

      The erosion of sub-Neptune sized planets may be one of the most prevalent channels by which terrestrial super-Earths are created near the Galactic Center. As such, the planet population demographics may be quite different close to Sgr A ∗ than in the Galaxy’s outskirts. The high stellar densities in this region (about seven orders of magnitude greater than the solar neighborhood) imply that the distance between neighboring rocky worlds is short (500−5000 ~AU).

      The proximity between potentially habitable terrestrial planets may enable the onset of widespread interstellar panspermia near the nuclei of galaxies.

      More generally, we predict these phenomena to be ubiquitous for planets in nuclear star clusters and ultra-compact dwarfs. Globular clusters, on the other hand, are less affected by the black holes.

      Comments: 9 pages, 4 figures, accepted for publication in Astrophysical Journal Letters

      Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)

      Cite as: arXiv:1711.06692 [astro-ph.EP]
      (or arXiv:1711.06692v2 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)

      Submission history

      From: Howard Chen [view email]

      [v1] Fri, 17 Nov 2017 19:01:08 GMT (711kb,D)

      [v2] Mon, 29 Jan 2018 20:53:54 GMT (712kb,D)


      • Harry R Ray February 2, 2018, 10:24

        Possible implications for this “closer” to home. Did LHS 1140 ORIGINALLY FORM near the center of the galaxy, and then, via interactions with other stars, get kicked out to its present location? If so, AND; it is OLD ENOUGH, that would mean that LHS 1140b is one of the above mentioned “evaporated cores”, indicating that it FORMED as either a neptune or a super-neptune. This would explain the EXTREME DENSITY of the planet. OH BY THE WAY, since April of last year, there have been ABSOLUTELY NO PUBLISHED PAPERS of FOLLOW-UP observations of this intreguing planet? WHAT GIVES? I hope the answer is that results of these follow-up observations are worthy of an EMBARGO in a TOP-RATED journal like “Nature” or “Science”!

  • Harry R Ray February 1, 2018, 10:23

    “Implications of captured interstellar objects for Panspermia and Extraterrestrial life.” by Manasvi Lingam, Abraham Loeb. Hypatia Stone?

  • ljk February 1, 2018, 11:40

    Phoning Home: Is Intelligent Alien Life Really Out There?

    by Seth Shostak on January 31, 2018

    Despite an observable universe sprinkled with several trillion galaxies, each stuffed with a trillion planets, we see no evidence of anyone. No signals, no megastructures, no interstellar rockets. While astronomers routinely uncover puzzling objects in the sky, these always turn out to be manifestations of natural phenomena.

    Without mincing words, we can state that the cosmos has offered us no hint of the presence of beings as clever as, or cleverer than, Homo sapiens.

    It’s tempting to jump from this observational fact to a disappointing conclusion: There’s no one out there. That’s not to say that the universe is sterile. Most astrobiologists seem comfortable with the premise that life might be widespread. But their optimism doesn’t always extend to complex, intelligent life.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    Other suggested barriers to intelligence are less easily dismissed because they depend as much on sociology as on astronomy. Many people seem almost proud to bray that humanity is going to Hades in a handbasket. If nuclear war doesn’t do us in, climate change will. But given that we have at least a chance of being smart about these threats and avoiding total self-destruction, it seems pretty clear that some reasonable fraction of alien societies will also be able to keep themselves alive and kicking for the long term.

    Indeed, it’s my opinion that the Great Filter idea falters not on the merits or otherwise of the proposed filters, but on the initial premise: Namely that, because we don’t see any evidence for other intelligence, we require some general mechanism to keep the cosmos short on sentience. Sure, it’s amusing to enumerate some of the difficulties in going from murky chemical soup to space-faring beings, but it seems far more likely that the problem here is a too-hasty conclusion about the prevalence of cosmic confreres.

    The efforts to find radio and light signals from other worlds, known as SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), has so far failed to uncover any hailing signals from aliens. But these experiments are both underfunded and still in their early days. Even if the universe is chock-a-block with transmitting societies, SETI could easily miss them, simply because of inadequate instrument sensitivity or the fact that only a small number of star systems have yet to be searched.

    A common, and regrettable, error is committed when people note that the SETI scientists have been toiling for more than 50 years without a discovery, as if that suggests that intelligence is rare. It doesn’t. Throughout most of that period, observations were restricted by the lack of telescope time or by receivers that could only examine small slices of the radio dial.

    In addition, it’s worth remarking that humanity is in the process of developing artificial intelligence, a technological trajectory that other sophisticated societies could very well follow. Unlike biological intelligence, AI can self-improve at tremendous speed. Also, there aren’t obvious limitations to the spread of machines throughout the cosmos. The implication of this observation is that the majority of the intelligence in the universe is likely to be synthetic. And machine intelligence might be small, localized, and cryptic.

    The absence of evidence would hardly qualify as evidence of absence. The Great Filter theory, in other words, could be no more than an appealing solution looking for a problem.

  • ljk February 8, 2018, 12:27

    NASA Should Start Funding SETI Again

    The search for extraterrestrial intelligence should be a part of the agency’s Astrobiology mission—but thanks to a 1993 law, it’s not.

    By Jason Wright on February 7, 2018

    In 1993, Sen. Richard Bryan (D–Nev.) introduced a last-minute amendment that ended funding for Project HRMS, the last major Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program funded by NASA.

    “This hopefully,” he quipped, “will be the end of Martian hunting season at the taxpayer’s expense.”

    Today, NASA does not have any SETI programs, and does not solicit proposals for SETI projects from astronomers. As a result, the field has atrophied, with only a handful of practitioners left and virtually no pipeline to train more.

    Some of us are hopeful change may be around the corner. Congress currently seems not hostile but downright receptive to SETI, and there is no actual statutory prohibition on NASA supporting a SETI program.

    NASA recently chartered the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to form the ad hoc Committee on Astrobiology Science Strategy for Life in the Universe to evaluate its astrobiology portfolio, and this committee should recommend that NASA embrace SETI as part of its mission.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    Since then, finding alien life has become a major priority for NASA. Supporting the field of astrobiology is a major part of NASA’s research portfolio, and finding signs of microbial life in the solar system or in the atmospheres of distant planets is one if its top priorities.

    And yet, “traditional SETI is not part of astrobiology” declares the “NASA Astrobiology Strategy 2015” document. But as many members of the field will tell you, this is incorrect. According to NASA, astrobiology is defined as the study of the “origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe” of life.

    And indeed, NASA has ambitions to identify biosignatures—the results of interactions between life and its environment—that would reveal the existence of primitive life on other worlds. NASA uses studies of the origin and evolution of past life on Earth as a guide to identify these biosignatures.

    To be sure, many people feel that SETI is unlikely to succeed, too risky to spend a lot of resources on. Others are sure, based on the fact that “they” have not visited us recently, that they must not be out there, or must not want to be found. But the question of our place in the universe is too important not to spend at least some of our resources on, and whatever merit one subjectively assigns SETI, it is clear that its optimum share of NASA’s research portfolio is not zero. As Giuseppe Cocconi and Philip Morrison wrote in their seminal 1959 paper on SETI: “The probability of success is difficult to estimate; but if we never search, the chance of success is zero.”

    And so, NASA should support a major SETI initiative or, at the very least, expressly encourage SETI practitioners to compete on a level playing field with practitioners of other subfields for NASA astrobiology resources in the quest to discover life elsewhere in the universe.

    This will uncork pent-up SETI efforts that will allow SETI practitioners to develop new search strategies, discover new astrophysical phenomena and, critically, train a new generation of SETI researchers to guide NASA’s astrobiology portfolio to vigorously pursue the discovery of all kinds of life in the universe—both “stupid” and intelligent.

    And if, as many suspect, technosignatures prove to be closer to our grasp than biosignatures, this will ultimately lead to one of the most profound discoveries in human history, and a reinvigoration of and relevance for NASA not seen since the Apollo era.

    C’mon NASA and professional astronomers in general, join the 21st Century and make it great again as our ancestors always thought it would be.

  • ljk February 9, 2018, 10:18

    Now you can play SETI: The Card Game!


    In SETI, two to four players take on the role of administrators of a radio telescopes located around the world. each of their facilities is working hard scanning various radio signals from space to see if they will be the one to find signs of Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.

    Players will complete sets of cards in order to add more telescopes (of various sizes) to their arrays, while trying to manipulate a common radio signal (shared by all players) in order to match the signal their facility is studying (secretly determined by die roll at the start of the game).

    Hmm, no Optical SETI? Radio is soooo 1997. :^)

  • ljk February 12, 2018, 14:56

    Researchers Just Scanned 14 Worlds From the Kepler Mission for “Technosignatures”, Evidence of Advanced Civilizations

    Article written: 9 Feb 2018
    Updated: 9 Feb 2018

    by Matt Williams

    When it comes to looking for life on extra-solar planets, scientists rely on what is known as the “low-hanging fruit” approach. In lieu of being able to observe these planets directly or up close, they are forced to look for “biosignatures” – substances that indicate that life could exist there. Given that Earth is the only planet (that we know of) that can support life, these include carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and water.

    However, while the presence of these elements are a good way of gauging “habitability”, they are not necessarily indications that extra-terrestrial civilizations exist. Hence why scientists engaged in the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) also keep their eyes peeled for “technosignatures”. Targeting the Kepler field, a team of scientists recently conducted a study that examined 14 planetary systems for indications of intelligent life.

    The study, titled “A search for technosignatures from 14 planetary systems in the Kepler field with the Green Bank Telescope at 1.15-1.73 GHz“, recently appeared online and is being reviewed for publication by The Astronomical Journal. The team was led by Jean-Luc Margot, the Chair of the UCLA Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences (UCLA EPSS) and a Professor with UCLA’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

    Full article here:


    The paper located online here:


  • ljk February 12, 2018, 15:28


    Are Alien Civilizations Technologically Advanced?

    Abraham Loeb

    (Submitted on 18 Jan 2018)

    As we discover numerous habitable planets around other stars in the Milky Way galaxy, including the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, one cannot help but wonder why have we not detected evidence for an advanced alien civilization as of yet.

    The surfaces of other planets might show either relics of advanced civilizations that destroyed themselves by self-inflicted catastrophes or living civilizations that are technologically primitive. Such circumstances can only be revealed by visiting those planets and not by remote observations.

    Comments: 3 pages, published in Scientific American

    Subjects: Popular Physics (physics.pop-ph); Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM)

    Cite as: arXiv:1801.06180 [physics.pop-ph]
    (or arXiv:1801.06180v1 [physics.pop-ph] for this version)

    Submission history

    From: Avi Loeb [view email]

    [v1] Thu, 18 Jan 2018 12:24:19 GMT (111kb)


  • ljk February 14, 2018, 16:45

    Crypto-currency craze ‘hinders search for alien life’

    By Chris Baraniuk, Technology reporter

    February 14, 2018

    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.

    “This is a new problem, it’s only happened on orders we’ve been trying to make in the last couple of months.”

    Full article here:


  • ljk February 16, 2018, 12:57

    Mining Crypto Takes So Much Bandwidth, It’s Inhibiting the Search for Alien Life

    In Brief

    Astronomers listening for radio messages from alien civilizations require lots of processing power to crunch the data. Now, those astronomers are finding the GPUs they need in short supply as crypto miners buy them up.

    Thanks to the cryptocurrency craze, we might miss out on a call from E.T. Astronomers are reporting that they can’t as easily access the graphics processing units (GPUs) needed to run their powerful telescopes and radio arrays, as they’re being bought up by those looking to mine cryptocurrency.

    Daniel Werthimer, chief scientist for the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project at the University of California-Berkeley, told the BBC that he’s found GPUs in short supply only over the past few months. Aaron Parsons, another Berkeley astronomer who works on the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array (Hera) radio telescope, had a similar story: he told the BBC that the price of GPUs his team needed had doubled.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    “At SETI we want to look at as many frequency channels as we possibly can because we don’t know what frequency ET will be broadcasting on,” Werthimer told the BBC. “And we want to look for lots of different signal types – is it AM or FM, what communication are they using?” As a result, SETI has as many as 100 GPUs at some telescopes.

  • ljk February 16, 2018, 13:55

    Jill Tarter, role model and SETI pioneer

    Shelley Wright

    February, 2018

    Physics Today 71, 2, 55 (2018); https://doi.org/10.1063/PT.3.3847

    Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Sarah Scoles, Pegasus Books, 2017, $27.95

    Capturing science as a human endeavor is at the core of Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Sarah Scoles’s biography deftly and entertainingly tells the story of groundbreaking scientist Jill Tarter, whose work has been pivotal to SETI.

    Full article here:


  • ljk March 7, 2018, 11:15

    Modern SETI is usually marked from 1960 when Frank Drake conducted Project Ozma, but in 1924 radio operators were instructed to listen to Mars for any possible signals by its presumed advanced inhabitants:


    The blog article the above piece refers to:


    More details here:



  • ljk March 9, 2018, 13:21

    Do aliens exist? Human technology may prevent us from finding out


  • ljk March 26, 2018, 10:43

    Aliens Could Detect Life on Earth. Here’s How.

    Michael Greshko

    March 26, 2018

    ONE STRANGE ROCK, a global event series, premieres tonight, March 26, at 10/9C on National Geographic.

    As the universe’s only known harbor for life, Earth is arguably one strange rock. But light-years from our solar system, other intelligent beings on a similar planetary oasis might be gazing in our direction and seeing us as a sign that they’re not alone in the universe.

    To date, astronomers have confirmed the existence of nearly 4,000 planets beyond our solar system, including some that just might have the conditions necessary to support life as we know it. As our technology improves, we should be able to learn more about these worlds and their chances of hosting plants, animals, and maybe even civilizations.

    That means if aliens are out there, they could just as easily discover us.


    Terra Cognita?

    Beyond those chemical clues, alien astronomers with truly massive telescopes might even be able to map Earth’s surface from afar, down to major urban areas.

    In a paper published on the arXiv in 2017, astronomers Svetlana Berdyugina and Jeff Kuhn outlined how astronomers could actually map the surfaces of alien planets from light-years away. To pull off such extreme cartography, they’d need a telescope at least 130 feet wide, custom-built for only one task: seeing the faint glow of light reflected off an alien planet. Variations in this reflected light over time would connote regional differences in the planet’s terrain.

    As a proof-of-concept for this telescope, called the ExoLife Finder, or ELF, Berdyugina and Kuhn simulated how nearby aliens using the telescope would see Earth. From 25 trillion miles away, E.T. could not only map Earth’s continents, but they’d also be able to see signs of intelligent life.

    “The ELF telescope has the sensitivity to see a Los Angeles basin,” says Kuhn. “We don’t see the lights, but we see the heat signature.” Their group, the Planets Foundation, is now building a single-mirror telescope in Hawaii to test the underlying tech. If all goes to plan, they say it’s possible to build ELF within a decade.

    “It would be like Star Trek, the reality show,” says Berdyugina. “We could virtually visit these planets.”

  • ljk March 26, 2018, 13:17

    ‘Contact’ astronomer: We’ll find alien life by year 2100

    Author: Rick Neale, Florida Today

    Published: 5:21 PM EDT March 25, 2018

    Updated: 6:15 PM EDT March 25, 2018

    ORLANDO — Though scientists have scanned the cosmos for signals from alien civilizations for a half-century, Jill Tarter likens mankind’s micro-scale campaign to searching for fish in the world’s oceans — by withdrawing a 12-ounce glass of water.

    “We’re out in the boondocks. And our star, the sun, is only one of 400 billion other stars in the Milky Way galaxy,” Tarter told a conference-room crowd Saturday afternoon.

    “And our Milky Way galaxy is only one of about 200 billion other galaxies in the observable universe,” she said. [That number is actually now at 2 trillion galaxies in the known Universe.]

    Tarter — whose astronomical career was portrayed by Jodie Foster in the 1997 movie “Contact” — served as closing speaker during the Florida Institute of Technology’s third Cross Cultural Management Summit at Caribe Royale in Orlando.

    Full article here:


  • ljk April 5, 2018, 13:47


    Interstellar communication. X. The colors of optical SETI

    Michael Hippke

    (Submitted on 4 Apr 2018)

    It has recently been argued from a laser engineering point of view that there are only a few magic colors for optical SETI. These are primarily the Nd:YAG line at 1064 nm and its second harmonic 532.1 nm. Next best choices would be the sum frequency and/or second harmonic generation of Nd:YAG and Nd:YLF laser lines, 393.8 nm (near Fraunhofer CaK), 656.5 nm (H ) and 589.1 nm (NaD2).

    In this paper, we examine the interstellar extinction, atmospheric transparency and scintillation, as well as noise conditions for these laser lines. For strong signals, we find that optical wavelengths are optimal for distances kpc. Nd:YAG at nm is a similarly good choice, within a factor of two, under most conditions and out to kpc. For weaker transmitters, where the signal-to-noise ratio with respect to the blended host star is relevant, the optimal wavelength depends on the background source, such as the stellar type. Fraunhofer spectral lines, while providing lower stellar background noise, are irrelevant in most use cases, as they are overpowered by other factors.

    Laser-pushed spaceflight concepts, such as “Breakthrough Starshot”, would produce brighter and tighter beams than ever assumed for OSETI. Such beamers would appear as naked eye stars out to kpc distances. If laser physics has already matured and converged on the most efficient technology, the laser line of choice for a given scenario (e.g., Nd:YAG for strong signals) can be observed with a narrow filter to dramatically reduce background noise, allowing for large field-of-view observations in fast surveys.

    Comments: 17 pages, 12 Figures. Comments welcome

    Subjects: Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM)

    Cite as: arXiv:1804.01249 [astro-ph.IM]
    (or arXiv:1804.01249v1 [astro-ph.IM] for this version)

    Submission history

    From: Michael Hippke [view email]

    [v1] Wed, 4 Apr 2018 06:24:52 GMT (3834kb,D)


  • ljk April 5, 2018, 13:50

    Artificial Intelligence Helps Predict The Likelihood Of Extraterrestrial Life

    Press Release – Source: RAS

    Posted April 4, 2018 at 4:07 PM

    Developments in artificial intelligence may help us to predict the probability of life on other planets, according to new work by a team based at Plymouth University.

    The study uses artificial neural networks (ANNs) to classify planets into five types, estimating a probability of life in each case, which could be used in future interstellar exploration missions. The work is presented at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (EWASS) in Liverpool on 4 April by Mr Christopher Bishop.


  • ljk April 5, 2018, 13:54

    NASA’s Search for Aliens Is Much Different Than SETI’s

    It’s pretty clever.

    By Rae Paoletta on April 4, 2018

    It’s pretty hard to have a level-headed conversation about aliens, except if you’re super skeptical, which you should probably be. But if you really want to understand astrobiology, or the science of life outside of earth, it’s crucial to understand how to talk about extraterrestrial life without sounding like the guy from Ancient Aliens. (Sorry, Giorgio Tsoukalos.)


  • ljk April 10, 2018, 13:13

    A cosmic gorilla effect could blind the detection of aliens

    Enrique Sacristán

    April 10 2018 08:35

    A well-known experiment with young people bouncing a ball showed that when an observer focuses on counting the passes, he does not detect if someone crosses the stage disguised as a gorilla. According to researchers at the University of Cádiz (Spain), something similar could be happening to us when we try to discover intelligent non-earthly signals, which perhaps manifest themselves in dimensions that escape our perception, such as the unknown dark matter and energy.


  • ljk May 3, 2018, 10:05

    How Would Humanity React If We Really Found Aliens?

    By Elizabeth Howell, Space.com Contributor | April 30, 2018 07:00 am ET

    If aliens reach out to us, what would happen first?

    It’s a question that has puzzled science-fiction fans and scientists alike for decades, and we already may have a hint of how people will react. On Oct. 30, 1938, a dramatized version of the 1898 H.G. Wells novel “The War of the Worlds” played on the CBS Radio system across the United States. The story details how Martians attacked Earth.

    The radio broadcast caused a reaction when people mistook it for a real radio report, but accounts vary as to how much of a reaction there was. Some accounts describe nationwide panic, while others say not very many people actually listened to the broadcast. The promise of alien life stars in Episode 1 of “AMC Visionaries: James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction,” which debuts on AMC tonight.

    Still, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) researcher Duncan Forgan told Space.com the “War of the Worlds” broadcast may be instructive to think about as SETI scientists worldwide update their “first contact” protocols

    Full article here:


  • ljk May 3, 2018, 10:09

    We Can Explore Instead of Believe: Inside the Epic Hunt for E.T.

    After a millennia of wondering, humanity can finally search out intelligent alien life—and SETI is leading the charge.

    By Matt Blitz

    April 30, 2018

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    Drake admitted later that he was amazed that the equation became “one of the great icons of science because it didn’t take any deep intellectual effort or insight on my part.” His intention was simply to take a big idea and boil it down so that even beginners could understand what’s required to create advanced lifeforms.

  • ljk June 13, 2018, 12:17

    The strange case for life in other universes

    By Paul Scott Anderson in Space | June 12, 2018

    More about the mind-boggling new studies suggesting that there could be many parallel universes beyond our own, where life is able to flourish.


    To quote:

    The idea of parallel universes isn’t new. You find it in many fields of thought. But, in the physics community, the debate about this concept – which is sometimes called the multiverse hypothesis – has heated up in recent years. As Shostak explained in his Mach article:

    The idea that other universes might exist arises from the realization that the Big Bang might not have been a unique event but a common one. How common? Stanford University physicists Andrei Linde and Vitaly Vanchurin have estimated that the number of unique parallel universes – ones that are independent of the cosmos you know and adore – could be written as a one followed by 10 thousand trillion zeroes. That’s not a number that has a name, and certainly not one you will ever encounter in the real world. I figure it would require 10 billion notebooks just to write this number down.

    So, to paraphrase Jodie Foster’s character in the movie Contact, if our cosmos is the only one with life, then that’s an awful waste of universes.

  • ljk June 13, 2018, 13:11

    The khipu code: the knotty mystery of the Inkas’ 3D records


    To quote:

    The search for a narrative ‘Rosetta khipu’ amounts to finding a match between the text of a Spanish document and the knots of twisted strings. Given these complexities, how confident can we be in our ability to learn about the narrative khipus, when they are so radically different from our understandings of communication? We are trained from an early age that mathematics and language are two discrete worlds. The Inkas, however, collapsed them into a three-dimensional construct – an achievement of civilisational complexity in the form of narrative cords.

    This complexity makes it surprising that the Inkas are often remembered for what they lacked, when compared with our modern society. South America is the only continent (besides Antarctica) on which no civilisation invented a system of graphical writing for more than 10,000 years after the first people arrived.

    We are yet to confirm a pre-conquest event knotted in contemporaneous records. The Inkas have even earned a spot on the list of original ‘pristine’ civilisations – commonly identified as Egypt, Shang China, Mesopotamia, the Mayas and the Inkas – despite being the only nation that never invented the wheel, markets or writing.

    The danger in this view is judging the past through the lens of the present. It is easy to view the past as a simpler time, where the Inkas never stumbled upon the wonders of modern communication. The ‘despite’ qualifier hides a troublesome assumption of our own superiority: what follows ‘despite’ but a list of our own, modern comforts of life (the wheel, markets, etc)?

    The khipus might seem bizarre to us, but the Inkas, who were the inheritors of a long tradition of weaving with cotton and camelid yarns, were unique and highly creative – not underdeveloped – in their approach to documenting language.

    Pencil and paper is not the only road to progress. In fact, the use of knotted cords was an important adaptation to living in the Andes, one of the most challenging geographies on Earth. Chaskis (Inka messengers) navigated the steep slopes of the Andes on foot, carrying one of the world’s most durable and portable envelopes: a khipu draped over each shoulder. The next time you try to retrieve your mail in a rainstorm, consider the ingenuity of the western hemisphere’s oldest postal service – a postcard you can hang out to dry.