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SETI: Breakthrough Listen Expands the Search

The SETI effort run by Breakthrough Listen is beginning to hit on all cylinders. Yesterday came news that observations at the CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope in New South Wales have been extended. You may recall that work at the site began in November of 2016, when Parkes joined the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia, USA, and the Automated Planet Finder (APF) at Lick Observatory in California in Breakthrough’s search for extraterrestrial signals.

Invariably, when I start talking about SETI, I recall James Gunn’s masterful The Listeners, written in 1972 but made up of previously published stories on the topic that Gunn melded together with interesting transitions. Here we get a tale of the first detection of a genuine extraterrestrial civilization, the narrative mixing with not just news reports but quotes on SETI and related matters from scientists to philosophers (the technique always reminds me of Dos Passos, but as I’ve written before, a science fiction reference is John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar). Carl Sagan would tell Gunn that The Listeners had been one of the many inspirations that drew him to write his own novel Contact.

But back to Parkes. The initial Breakthrough work there used software similar to the Green Bank Telescope’s, examining southern skies not accessible from the latter. In an obviously symbolic gesture, ‘first light’ at Breakthrough’s Parkes operation involved a close look at Proxima Centauri b, not long after its discovery. At that time, Andrew Siemion, director of UC Berkeley SETI Research Center, explained the Proxima observation this way:

“The chances of any particular planet hosting intelligent life-forms are probably minuscule. But once we knew there was a planet right next door, we had to ask the question, and it was a fitting first observation for Parkes. To find a civilization just 4.2 light years away would change everything.”

And while no one expected to find it there, the symmetry between this symbolic first act and Breakthrough Starshot’s design studies for an interstellar probe targeting nearby stars was obvious. In yesterday’s announcement, we learned that the Parkes survey is now broadening substantially, using new digital instrumentation to capture the vast incoming dataflow from the Parkes multibeam receiver. Earlier efforts at the observatory could observe a single point on the sky at any one time, whereas the multibeam receiver puts 13 beams into the effort.

The result: An effort that will encompass large areas of sky covering all the galactic plane visible from the Parkes site. Scientists and engineers from the University of California, Berkeley SETI Research Center (BSRC) have expanded the Breakthrough Listen back-end so that it can manage 130 gigabits per second — 100 million radio channels scanned for each of the 13 beams. The Parkes instrument will see 1500 hours of Breakthrough Listen observing time in 2018.

We’re talking 100 petabytes of raw data here, out of which must be untangled the usual RFI interference ranging from aircraft to satellites, terrestrial cell towers and other background noise. A recent news release from Breakthrough Listen points to the improved rejection of RFI signals generated by Earthside technologies as a complement to the project’s improved survey speeds. The new methods will be applied not just to SETI but fast radio bursts (FRBs) as well.

“With these new capabilities,” says Danny Price, Parkes project scientist with the Breakthrough Listen project at UC-Berkeley, “we are scanning our Galaxy in unprecedented detail. By trawling through these huge datasets for signatures of technological civilizations, we hope to uncover evidence that our planet, among the hundreds of billions in our galaxy, is not the only one where intelligent life has arisen.”

Image: The Parkes 64m radio telescope in Parkes, New South Wales. Credit: Daniel John Reardon CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons.

All told, Breakthrough Listen aims to search one million nearby stars along with the entire galactic plane and 100 nearby galaxies in radio and optical wavelengths. Mining the data trove is a huge undertaking, within which signal detection and classification is an ongoing challenge. The expanded Parkes dataset will be made available to the public online, which gives those with programming skills the opportunity to work on the critical algorithms needed to screen interference from what could potentially be the traces of an extraterrestrial transmission.


{ 68 comments… add one }
  • David Herne May 8, 2018, 9:39

    Something I love about my home’s location, 31° 48′ S – roughly the same as Parkes, is that the Alpha Centauri star system is up there all night (and sleeping during the day). I walk outside to be rewarded with a view of stars just 4.2 light years away and wonder what might be found there. Our telescope, the Murchison Widefield Array, enjoys much the same view, as will SKA-low (the low-frequency component of the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope), located on the same precinct in the Murchison region of Western Australia.

  • PW May 8, 2018, 9:58

    It’s worth doing, and even our sentient responsibility to question and engage. That said, the Fermi Paradox alone makes the proposition extremely unlikely to succeed. People have been trying very hard for many years and with passion (Jill Tarter) to discover silence.

    • ljk May 8, 2018, 12:56

      Not quite as often, or as intently, and certainly not as widely as you and others have been led to believe. See here:


      • J. Jason Wentworth May 9, 2018, 7:38

        Thank you–I’ve been reading that book (starting with Chapter 6, covering the evolutionists’ critique of SETI) on David Darling’s website this morning. Some years ago I had previously read about a few scientists’ misgivings about whether SETI was worthwhile and likely to succeed, and I had suspected that many more thought the same way. “SETI’s Scope” certainly confirmed that; Carl Sagan’s arguments and views didn’t emerge unscathed from their glaring scrutiny and criticism, and:

        This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look for ETI (*not* searching virtually guarantees never finding any, unless we happen to be visited), or even that intelligent life is necessarily almost vanishingly rare, but that ^technological^ intelligent life might be. (Sagan’s argument in “Cosmos” that other civilizations on Earth–besides the Ionian Greeks–would also have stumbled upon science if given more time always rang hollow to me [I noticed that Paul Davies also expressed this doubt in “The Eerie Silence”], because it too arose due to an unlikely confluence of factors and events.) If the development of science was just a lucky break on Earth, assuming that it would eventually be invented by other intelligent beings elsewhere seems excessively sanguine.

        • ljk May 9, 2018, 10:35

          An early work that really woke me up to the fact that the traditional SETI concepts and actual operations were not quite as imaginative or spanning as one might be led to believe was the book The Inner Limits of Outer Space by Dartmouth professor John C. Baird (Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1987).

          As I wrote about Baird here in my 2013 Centauri Dreams article on another book that questioned the traditional SETI paradigm:


          “Reading through the collected papers in Civilizations Beyond Earth reminded me of one of the first works I came across that was directly critical of the parameters modern SETI had laid down in its milestone years of 1959 and 1960, The Inner Limits of Outer Space by Dartmouth professor John C. Baird (Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1987).

          “The author of the first major book on SETI by a professional psychologist, Baird was also part of Project Oasis, a NASA plan in 1979 to help design the multi-channel spectrum analyzer to be used in the space agency’s own burgeoning SETI project.

          “Baird pointed out how those involved in searching for extraterrestrial intelligences were spending a great deal of their time and resources in designing and building the instruments they planned to use, but not nearly as much in turn when it came to really thinking about what kind of beings might be out there and why they might want to conduct METI at all.

          “Baird’s words and thoughts throughout The Inner Limits of Outer Space mirror what one finds twenty-four years later in Civilizations Beyond Earth. Neither work wants to do away with SETI so much as redefine it to improve the chances for success based on a more realistic or at least more open approach to alien life.

          “The similarities also include the conclusion that even though current SETI is problematical in terms of detecting an actual extraterrestrial signal, it cannot hurt to keep trying for, to quote the current advertising motto of the New York State Lottery: “You never know.”

          • J. Jason Wentworth May 10, 2018, 3:55

            Ah yes–I forget much of what I read these days (age and morphine don’t help memory), but I did read that article by you. It reminds me of Freeman Dyson’s comment, “I make a sharp distinction between intelligence and technology. It is easy to imagine a highly intelligent society with no particular interest in technology.” This is far from mere armchair speculation on Dyson’s part:

            Even among human beings, there have been–and are–many such societies (Native North, Central, and South American tribes, indigenous peoples in Asia and isolated areas of northern Europe, on Pacific Islands, and in Australia, the Amish and Hutterites in America, etc.). If asked what they thought about H. G. Wells’ statement, “The choice is: the Universe…or nothing,” they would probably say something like, “*He* may have thought that, but we don’t,” and:

            I have friends (who aren’t members of such societies) who have little or no interest in whether or not extraterrestrial life exists, and they aren’t stupid or incurious; they just aren’t particularly interested in that subject. It wouldn’t be surprising if many intelligent extraterrestrials (if there are any–I wouldn’t be shocked if there are none, a few, or many ETI races) are also uninterested in whether they are alone in the universe. Your article (in the part about the French missionaries’ surprise at the Native Canadians’ totally different conclusions about spiritual matters) also illustrates another, surprisingly opposite parallel between different human societies, which might also occur among some extraterrestrials:

            The more “advanced” (in terms of material advances and inventions–I am dubious about much of their claimed moral superiority) societies, with few exceptions (usually just a few individual people) did not and do not engage in spiritual exploration, while the less advanced societies did and do actively engage in such explorations. In other words, the “primitive” peoples are far more curious and interested in exploring these matters than are “advanced” ones, as the anthropologist Dr. Michael Harner found:

            He encountered this difference when he tried, unsuccessfully, to get information about the religion of the Shuar tribe in Ecuador, among whom he was living while doing fieldwork studying their culture. The concept of religion–of just believing in a deity or deities, and praying to them–was alien to them, to the point that their language didn’t really facilitate his explaining this to them. They finally told him, after he was able to explain what he was trying to learn from them, that (in so many words): “We don’t have beliefs *about* spirits–we actively interact with them frequently, and we see, hear, smell, and touch them.” Such peoples, who engage in such contact via shamanic techniques (“sonic driving,” using drumbeats of a suitable tempo [which I’ve used], is the simplest way), have no doubts that human beings are *not* the only intelligent beings (including living, flesh-and-blood ones) in the universe. If they talked with SETI researchers, they would tell them that they’re using only one of the available search methods, and are looking only in one of the places where other intelligent beings could be found.

            • ljk May 10, 2018, 13:54

              Look at this quote from a new article on renewed SETI funding by the U.S. Congress by Jill Tarter, who seems to have changed her tune in regards to how to conduct SETI and why from the early days:


              The quote:

              As recently as January of this year, Tarter suggested a rebranding for SETI. “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,” she said. SETI “is searching for evidence of someone else’s technology. We use technology as a proxy for intelligence.” Call it SETT instead, she said.

              I am grateful for the paradigm shifting and the progress, I really am. I just wish it didn’t take so long and have so much further to go. Of course until quite recently I also wondered if I would ever see humans back on the Moon and on to Mars in my lifetime, so there is more hope for humanity.

  • Michael C. Fidler May 8, 2018, 11:51

    What about looking for other signatures of advanced technology, such as signs of lightspeed spacecraft and the radiations that they would emit both when traveling thru space and when being accelerated. The amount of IR radiation that our large rockets emit would be very bright, so the energy being emitted by any type of interstellar travel method would be millions of times more powerful! How about being able to pick up any unusual emissions from all the exoplanets – not just radio, microwave or optical – but from gamma rays to long radio waves.

    Astronomers Detect Strange Signals from Red Dwarf Star.

    “On May 12, 2017 the 1,000-foot-wide (305 meters) Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico detected “some very peculiar signals” apparently emanating from Ross 128, a red dwarf star that lies just 11 light-years from Earth.”


    It is interesting that Ross 128b was discovered by ESO’s High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) in July 2017.

    “At a distance of 11 light-years, Ross 128 b is the second-closest planet to be detected yet outside our solar system with surface temperatures potentially similar to ours.
    Ross 128 b is very near its star, thus the short orbit. But it doesn’t get broiled because the red dwarf star is cool. The star is also quiet, meaning no radiation flare-ups. That’s encouraging news for seekers of extraterrestrial life. The planet is believed to border the so-called habitable zone.”

    • Paul Gilster May 8, 2018, 12:32

      I also wrote about the Ross 128 observations here:


    • J. Jason Wentworth May 9, 2018, 7:53

      Fixed-view radio telescopes (ones with fixed, less directional antennas, which utilize the Earth’s rotation to sweep the sky) might be more useful for searching for interstellar spacecraft; ditto for wide-angle infrared telescopes. If an extrasolar spacecraft was decelerating toward us (or even in our general direction), its exhaust would be Doppler-shifted (and it might also have a high proper motion [as well as an oddly-decreasing radial velocity]), which would betray its un-star-like motion. Such a vehicle traveling in a direction more-or-less perpendicular to our line of sight would have an anomalously large transverse motion, which would also attract our attention.

      • Michael C. Fidler May 10, 2018, 10:46

        Search for high-proper motion objects with infrared excess.


        The reasons of possible “interstellar migration” are discussed.

        The possibility of “Dysonships” transiting inside the Solar System is hypothesized.

        The main observational markers of Dysonships are searched.

        Main observational markers identified: infrared excess and high proper motion.

        Strategies for target identification and astronomy-like measurements are described.

        The possibility of interstellar migration has been theorized during the past thirty years in the form of “Dysonships” that, using non-relativistic propulsion systems, are able to colonize the Galaxy in a relatively short time compared to the age of the Galaxy and consequently penetrate inside our solar system too. Observational evidence of this can be potentially obtained using the present state of the art of telescopes and related sensors, by following aimed searches and an expanded SETI protocol. Some transient and unrepeated radio signals recorded during standard SETI observations might be due to the transit of high-proper motion artificial sources of extraterrestrial origin, which are expected to show a very weak optical emission, a strong infrared excess and occasional high-energy bursts in the X and Gamma-ray wavelength ranges. Such artificial sources might show an interest to Earth by sending probes to visit it: such a possibility can be investigated scientifically as well.


        Wondering if someone might have a copy of this, it’s behind a paywall.


        • J. Jason Wentworth May 10, 2018, 21:21

          I’m glad to see that some researchers are investigating the possibility of such non-relativistic “Dysonships,” and probes that they might dispatch to examine stellar systems that they pass through (or near). Looking for starships has long suffered from the UFO-associated “giggle factor” that has also hampered SETI in general, and this is an important psychological barrier that is now being breached, or at least eroded away like a seaside cliff. (A few scientists even reserve judgement on the UFO phenomenon, while *not* being enthusiastic that the extraterrestrial hypothesis of some of their origins contains scientific paydirt, simply because laughing at the phenomenon without examining it is unscientific. Carl Sagan once refused to sign a resolution by other scientists that condemned astrology for the same reason, *not* because he believed in it, but because he had never scientifically investigated it, and thus couldn’t render a scientifically-informed opinion on it.)

          • ljk May 11, 2018, 10:16

            Now that we are designing initial starships that are not lacking in need for a human crew to operate them but are also quite small (StarChips), one has to wonder why – if you go on the premise that UFOs are alien vessels with living organic crews whose purpose is to study Earth and its inhabitants presumably for their science – why they go about this method? Giant spaceships flying around in our skies grabbing random citizens for medical examinations and then dumping them off with nary a Prime Directive in sight?

            Maybe these ETI just don’t care what we think because we are like animals to them. Maybe they have so many celestial resources at their disposal that they can afford to build lots of huge ships with crews. Maybe it’s some kind of alien cultural thing where they have to have living the representatives of their species on board all their interstellar craft.

            Now this is just me, but if I were trying to study the life forms of another world and I did not want to interfere with or otherwise disrupt the natives even if it is just purely for objective scientific purposes – who are less advanced than my kind, please note – I would be going about my research in a very stealthy manner, which would include nanotech or something similar that would be virtually undetectable by the target species.

            As our knowledge about the Universe and our methods of exploring it advance, it will be interesting to see what the forms of paradigm shifts in regards to UFOs and related aspects of that culture take then. Tiny automated craft flitting about us?

            • ljk May 11, 2018, 10:20

              Here is a relevant book on the subject:


            • Michael C. Fidler May 12, 2018, 6:33

              Well, let me give you an idea of what it is like to be on the other side. I do not have to believe because I have seen objects twice thru my telescopes. I know this subject is taboo here, for good reason, because it creates endless argument and tension. There has been a long history of reports going way back to the 1700’s by astronomers even up to present day, scientist that were well versed in what they were seeing. My own feeling is that whatever is causing this activity, if ET, could be like a game that is used to teach us. I’m not talking about the 99.9 percent that are most probable hoaxes, imaginations, or other reason that make them of little scientific interest. The present climate would make it almost impossible for a real event to happen with any way of proving it, that one out of ten million reports. Now that my credibility is shot, this is one of the main reasons that I love Centauri Dreams, because you can talk with highly intelligent individuals about a subject that normally considered science fiction. It’s been some 50 years since my first sighting and my advice to everyone is to try and keep an open mind. (Just watch out for the Flak)

            • J. Jason Wentworth May 12, 2018, 20:36

              That is making the same mistake–although from the opposite direction–that the ETH (Extra-Terrestrial Hypothesis) proponents make; jumping to that conclusion. First it must be determined what UFOs *are*, which has not been done (although already, it is clear that they have no single cause). Here are two examples of possible–and potentially even commercially useful–cause of some UFOs:

              In his book 1968 book, “UFOs–Identified,” Philip J. Klass plausibly identified one type of UFO, low-temperature chemo-plasmas of typical axisymmetric UFO shapes (saucers, spheres, ellipsoids, cigars, etc.) which can be reproduced in the laboratory, and which sometimes appear over freshly-fertilized fields (the ammonium nitrate seems to be a significant factor in their formation). No one, to my knowledge, has tested this possible explanation, especially in the fields in which these phenomena have been seen. This might even provide a way–by using simple optical sensors, perhaps tuned to the wavelengths of the plasma emissions–for farmers to determine the optimum amount of fertilization for various conditions of temperature and humidity. But because the reaction to suggestions for research of this sort is usually, “UFOs–Ha Ha Ha!”, these interesting and potentially useful phenomena go un-examined, and:

              A brightly luminous phenomenon that appears on the cover of that book (see: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=UFOs–Identified+by+Philip+J.+Klass ), which was taken by a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot, might possibly be of help in controlled nuclear fusion research. As Klass described in the book, this brilliant daytime plasma (of approximately double-convex shape), which was far larger, brighter, more stable, and more persistent than ball lightning, was clearly associated with a thunderstorm, and was witnessed by several RCAF CF-86 pilots, including the pilot who took the picture. It did not move, and neither did it dissipate during the time it was in view (the flight of CF-86s continued with their training mission). Perhaps this and similar phenomena, if investigated, would provide hints about how the magnetic “bottles” of fusion reactors could be configured in order to achieve “break-even” fusion? But we’ll never know if the “giggle factor” keeps scientists from investigating such phenomena.

              • Paul Gilster May 13, 2018, 8:54

                As interesting as this is, I continue to ask that UFO discussions take place on other sites that are designed for them. On this site, long experience has told me how profoundly off-topic we can get when UFOs take over the discussion, and I ask that comments stay within the topic of the post in question, which in this case is Breakthrough Listen and the larger matter of the SETI search.

                • J. Jason Wentworth May 14, 2018, 2:08

                  Agreed. My only purpose is to illustrate the scientific community’s attitude toward them to show how–as with meteorites and the “red sprite” & “blue jet” plasmas (two forms of near-space lightning, which pilots also reported for decades, only to be scoffed at by scientists, as with meteorite impact witnesses centuries ago [who *gave* actual meteorites to the unbelieving scientists])–we may be missing out on learning interesting and useful (perhaps even to nuclear fusion and starflight) things about nature, simply because of an emotional response, and:

                  Even Arthur C. Clarke advocated non-sensationalistic scientific study of aerial phenomena, pointing out that they might “turn out to be something ^really^ interesting”–and perhaps totally unexpected, “rather than mere humdrum visitors from other planets.” I wonder what other things science knows little or nothing about because of fear of ridicule? (Astronautics and SETI were definitely taboo scientific subjects–as Robert Goddard personally experienced–until the V-2s and Sputnik 1, respectively.)

                  • Paul Gilster May 14, 2018, 9:17

                    I for one am all for such study, but it is off-topic on this site.

  • Robin Datta May 8, 2018, 14:33

    The effort has the potential through new findings to alter humanity’s world-view at the grass-roots level: a paradigm shift could direct us away from unwittingly following the biological imperatives to venturing into new avenues of development.

    • J. Jason Wentworth May 9, 2018, 8:10

      I agree, but not–I suspect–in the way you meant. At this point, discovering signals from another civilization (even from a long-extinct one), or finding artifacts from an ancient extrasolar expedition on the Moon or other solar system bodies, wouldn’t be shocking (although it would arouse great interest, of course). What would be shocking would be to never pick up any radio or optical (or even gravity wave) artificial signals even after century or more of listening, because that would indicate that we might be alone (except maybe for plants and/or animals). Such a null result might eventually stimulate interstellar travel, in order to (as well as explore extrasolar planets) spread humanity to other habitable or terraform-able worlds as a survival strategy.

  • galacsi May 9, 2018, 6:00

    I am sure these observations will do good for astronomy. But for detecting an alien civilization ? I am not so sure ! In my opinion advanced civilizations, actually advanced civilisations, use entanglement to communicate and not EM waves (or smoke clouds )

    • ljk May 9, 2018, 10:01

      SETI has traditionally been in the habit of seeking out intelligent technological aliens who in essence are not all that different from humanity (see above in this comment thread).

      The SETI paradigm has expanded a bit in the last few years as a call has gone out to search for signs of alien technological activity from urban pollution to rings of geosynchronous satellites all the way up to Dyson Shells/Swarms (think Tabby’s Star). At the least these other methods do not require the ETI to actually contact us or even be broadcasting.

      While I doubt anyone has yet done Entanglement SETI (but hey, please prove me wrong here), there has been discussion about another method that advanced ETI might communicate with, namely neutrinos:


      Scientists did send an actual message of sorts with neutrinos in 2012, so the concept of using these particles for communication is possible:


      It is interesting to note that when Coconni and Morrison were discussing methods that ETI might utilize to communicate across the stars with in 1959, the first thing they came up with were not radio waves from gamma rays:



      • ljk May 9, 2018, 10:09

        I forgot to add we should also be checking for planetary radar beams from ETI who have been colonizing and exploring their own solar systems. Just as we use Arecibo to scan NEOs passing by Earth, ETI who are far more active in their own planetary neighborhoods should be using radar to monitor their own planetoids, meteoroids, and comets both for impact hazard detection and resource allocation.

        This method has the downside of creating random beams that will not be aimed in any particular interstellar direction, but on the plus side there should be a lot of them, so think of firing buckshot: One is bound to hit something productive eventually. This method also does not require ETI to be conducting deliberate METI in case their species has as many issues with beaming into the galaxy as humanity does.

        We should also be on the lookout for signals coming from supernovae. ETI might use these natural beacons to aim transmissions at potential civilizations in a line of sight between the SN and them. We could do this as well.

        • J. Jason Wentworth May 10, 2018, 4:54

          Emotionally, we should adopt an attitude rather like that of Diogenes–who wandered forever with his lamp, searching for an honest man–in all searches for extraterrestrial life (if they are limited to technological methods such as radio and laser signal monitoring, exoplanet spectroscopy, SETA/SETV searches in our Solar System [including for alien probes], and future Bracewell probes of our own, etc.), so as to not become discouraged. Also:

          Piggy-backing such searches onto regular astronomical observations (even gravity wave ones, as that technology matures), wherever possible, would help to lower their costs and make them logistically simpler. Freely sharing data with optical, radio, neutrino, and gravity wave astronomers might also make them less critical about the observing time on instruments that is allotted to “airy-fairy” (as many astronomers think it is) SETI searches.

          • ljk May 10, 2018, 14:12

            It is funny how not all that long ago, Green Bank Observatory – where Frank Drake conducted Project Ozma in 1960 – downplayed their pioneering role in SETI.

            Now that they have been saved from financial doom by Breakthrough Listen, GBO is suddenly all about finding aliens….


            Nothing like a little cash infusion to buy respect, even in the science community.

            • J. Jason Wentworth May 10, 2018, 22:15

              Another article linked to that one, about the Mount Wilson Observatory’s struggle to stay open (see: http://www.wired.com/2016/04/man-whos-drawn-sun-almost-every-day-40-years/ ), is very sad… Regarding the Green Bank Observatory personnel’s attitude toward their SETI history:

              I will never understand human beings. Wondering if there is other life out there is one of the primary motivations–if not the main one–behind astronomy and astronautics, and pretending that it isn’t is just plain silly; that so many people lie to themselves about this (pretending that they’re really more drawn to the “practical” aspects of both fields, as useful as they undoubtedly are) has never made any sense to me. I would be proud to say, “Yes, our observatory is engaged in–along with mapping and observing the universe–searching for other civilizations. Such a discovery would teach us things we can’t even conceive of!”

              • ljk May 11, 2018, 8:48

                A wonderful quote, thank you, and one that I am fully on board with. It should be carved into stone at every astronomical observatory and institution.

                Hopefully some day we will look back and realize how foolish and provincial we were to think Earth is the be-all and end-all of everything in a Cosmos as vast and ancient as ours.

                • J. Jason Wentworth May 14, 2018, 4:26

                  You’re welcome. If we found even *one* other technological civilization and established mutually-understandable contact with it, the collaboration between our two very different societies would enable mutual cultural and scientific advancement that neither of us (us and them, that is) might achieve–or even imagine–separately (although I suspect that humanity would “have the better half of that bargain”).

                  • ljk May 14, 2018, 11:25

                    Even if Earth is the only place in the galaxy with life, that we know just how big, populated, and ancient our Universe is should be enough to make your quote remain relevant.

                    After all, unless I am missing something – such as are stars and maybe whole galaxies living beings – the Universe on a grand scale does not appear either dominated or otherwise affected by any life as we might know it.


              • Michael May 11, 2018, 16:56

                “Yes, our observatory is engaged in–along with mapping and observing the universe–searching for other civilizations. Such a discovery would teach us things we can’t even conceive of!”

                We must be careful, there are people on Earth who would seek power over others to know what they know and sacrifice their own kind to obtain it.

                • J. Jason Wentworth May 12, 2018, 21:09

                  That is something that Ronald Bracewell considered when he formulated his concept for interstellar messenger probes (which would examine other stars and their planetary systems as our interplanetary probes do locally, and which would also listen for intelligent signals and make contact if they heard such signals), and:

                  He described how such probes would need to be prepared for dealing with local political considerations. If an alien Bracewell probe found our world (or such future probes of our own found such worlds that have rival powers), knowledge of the probe’s existence (including its technology and the information it would possess in its memory storage) would be the most highly-classified military secret imaginable, particularly if the inhabitants had not yet achieved starflight themselves. Even if they had, entering into exclusive relations with the probe’s makers would be highly desirable to each rival power on a planet, but:

                  The very nature of a probe’s movement (it would sooner or later set below the horizon of every communication station as the planet rotated) would, however, tend to encourage co-operation between even rival powers, because the probe couldn’t–or wouldn’t–tell where it came from, exchange scientific and cultural information, and reveal how to directly contact its home planet, *unless* they set up a global reception/transmission network. (If someone tried to capture the probe for its own “nation,” the probe could self-destruct–or at least erase its memory–and warn any would-be captors about it).

        • J. Jason Wentworth May 10, 2018, 5:49

          Your comment above suggests an interesting, and perhaps fruitful, course of action for Earth-based radio telescopes, laser/optical telescope systems, and other interstellar-capable transmission systems that we can build:

          The Bracewell probe concept involves these spacecraft repeating back (on the same wavelengths they heard them) intelligent signals from or near any planets in their assigned stellar systems (or perhaps from elsewhere in their target systems). Bracewell wrote than a powerful, starlight-powered RF amplifier placed in orbit in the middle of a star’s habitable zone would be sufficient to attract attention via such signal “echoes” (and suitable equipment could also do this at laser and other wavelengths), and:

          Likewise, if we detected any intelligent (or seemingly so) radio or laser signals on Earth-based equipment, we could re-transmit them back at their sources, at the same frequencies at which they were received. Others have also suggested immediately transmitting signals in the opposite direction from any supernovae that appear (I’d go with “ordinary” novae, too), because any other civilization that turned instruments toward the astronomical event could receive our signals as well. “Echoing back” any signals that sounded and looked (on an oscilloscope) like extrasolar planetary radar pulses could also attract their attention.

    • Michael C. Fidler May 9, 2018, 11:22

      Here is another method that may also deal with entanglement:

      SETI Kingsland.

      Widening the scope of new methods of detecting extra-terrestrial civilizations would offer more options within SETI. ET civilisations may be using quantum superluminal communications as a means to transfer information over vast galactic distances instantaneously outside the electromagnetic spectrum. This possible activity may be by passing current SETI radio methods for detection. Analysis of Kardashev Classes 1 to 2 civilizations may be using faster than light (FTL) travel and therefore superluminal communications. This means that it opens up the possibility of widening the search capabilities for detection. A super luminal communications system is currently been used at SETI Kingsland to widen the possibility of detections and is complimentary to the existing radio/microwave searches. This new system provides not only possible detections but instant two way communications with an ET civilization.


      Take a look at their publications:


      A very good Pdf file with plenty of illustrations:


      Some other interesting Pdf files from the same site!







      • AlexT May 10, 2018, 2:43

        Just wandering, does anyone who use the magic phrase “quantum entanglement” and “faster than speed of light communication” really understand what is real problems to use this effect for the communication?
        False science…

        • J. Jason Wentworth May 10, 2018, 22:27

          We don’t know that yet. Insisting that the limits have already been found (science is replete with examples of such confidently-expressed statements being disproved; these occurrences were the inspiration behind Clarke’s laws). The only safe thing that can be said about what is impossible is, “X is impossible, with what we know *now*.”

          • hiro May 11, 2018, 14:57

            “X is unstable with 1000% certainty”. None of those three digit elements can last more than an hour, a day, a year etc….

        • hiro May 11, 2018, 14:53

          Probably FTL comm via wormhole I guess; by the way the famous no-go theorem of “FTL quantum entanglement” has loopholes similar to those annoying tax loopholes. However, non-wormhole FTL comm is 100% unstable, there is no way to know when the comm line is cut off.

          • Michael May 11, 2018, 16:50

            I have a funny feeling about quantum entanglement, it is not what it seems!

            • AlexT May 13, 2018, 4:26

              Me too have “a funny feeling about quantum entanglement” , but my funny feeling is in full agreement with modern quantum mechanic , it tells me that:
              FTL comunication (information transfer) using quantum entanglement – is impossible.

              • J. Jason Wentworth May 14, 2018, 1:36

                Arthur C. Clarke pointed out that as radio waves pass through a waveguide, they form patterns that do move faster than the speed of light, but that these patterns can’t be used to send *information* faster than light (in a *vacuum*, at any rate; FTL velocities through various media, like the luminous blue Cerenkov radiation caused by particles exceeding the speed of light in *water*, from “swimming pool” nuclear reactors, are commonplace). He mused that it might, somehow, be possible to get around this inability to send FTL messages through space (maybe something akin to Dr. Miguel Alcubierre’s manipulation of space itself?).

                • AlexT May 16, 2018, 12:56

                  Please pay attention that
                  I am using phrase FTL communication – this means information transfer.
                  There is number examples of virtual FTL processes you can find a lot in wikipedia, but meanwhile we do knot know any way for FTL communication.
                  FTL communication it is very attractive thing by it self, I very understand people who make researches in this area , but it does not need any SETI for development…
                  On other side when you plan/imagine something that based only on non existing things – it is science fiction (A. Clark’s area).

      • Michael C. Fidler May 10, 2018, 7:51

        Seems funny that this just came out today – Coincidence or did I get entangled and end up in another universe? Either way superluminal communications is here to stay! ;-) Beam me up, Scotty!

        Massive experiment finally proves Einstein was wrong about quantum physics.

        “Dr. Einstein famously didn’t believe it was possible for two tiny particles – known as photons – to transmit information between them instantly, no matter how far apart they were, because doing so would break one of the universe’s fundamental rules – that nothing, including information, can travel faster than light. His view is known as ‘local realism’.”

        “We showed that Einstein’s world-view of local realism, in which things have properties whether or not you observe them, and no influence travels faster than light, cannot be true – at least one of those things must be false.”




        Challenging local realism with human choices.


        • AlexT May 10, 2018, 15:42

          I know there is lot of people that believe to things that they want to believe, there is lot of religions in our world.
          Homo sapience does not know how to use particle entanglement for comunication between two homo sapience, but there is whole SETI organization that declaring about communication with ETI using “particle entanglement”, we can supose that those people are 100% Nobel prize candidate…

      • galacsi May 14, 2018, 14:15

        That’s an answer and a lot to read ! Thank you very much.

        Can communications with entanglement be FTL ? I don’t know.
        For sure many people try to show us it is impossible, but the trouble is I don’t understand their demonstration !

    • Harold Daughety May 9, 2018, 23:09

      I seems to me that we are looking for someone just like us with the same technology and motives. Gee. . . that would be a very boring discovery. So, how can we envision alien intelligence? Is it even possible that we can do so? Perhaps by looking for nonspecific anomalies rather than markers specific to extrapolated human civilizations?

      • ljk May 10, 2018, 13:36

        Harold, take a gander way back up in this comment thread to get some answers to your comments and questions on this very subject.

      • AlexT May 10, 2018, 15:51

        Nice point! You are first commentator that I can fully agree with your point of view.

    • J. Jason Wentworth May 14, 2018, 2:44

      Quantum entanglement does seem to possibly enable effectively faster-than-light communication. The drawback (if I understand the process correctly; I freely admit that I may not) is that the two entangled particles or atoms must first be brought together, then separated, so that at least the first “round” of contact must be conducted at the (relatively) “slowpoke old c” (as close to it as the involved interstellar spacecraft or ships can travel, without reaching it). If near-c travel is difficult (or even “just” extremely expensive) even for older societies, slower vehicles–say, 0.1 – 0.5 c–will take even longer to establish entanglement contact. Also:

      For very old technological civilizations, this would be no problem, just a matter of patience (the youngster human race is like Alvin and the Chipmunks in their Christmas song “We can hardly stand the wait/Please Christmas, don’t be late.” :-) ). But for communicating with younger civilizations (either transmitting to them, or responding to transmissions from them, if they deign to do so), radio is such a simple and cheap method–which also enables optically invisible and obscured astronomical objects to be observed–that they might also use radio telescopes.

      • Michael C. Fidler May 14, 2018, 11:31

        This is being developed in China, Canada and by DARPA, so there could be advantages – like cutting the round trip time in half!

        Quantum radar will expose stealth aircraft.

        Quantum radar uses a sensing technique called quantum illumination to detect and receive information about an object. At its core, it leverages the quantum principle of entanglement, where two photons form a connected, or entangled, pair.

        Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-04-quantum-radar-expose-stealth-aircraft.html

        • AlexT May 20, 2018, 12:24

          This article uses phrases like quantum or quantum entanglement but it is not claiming any FTL comunication… that fact make huge difference between the dream and reality.

  • ljk May 10, 2018, 13:46

    Congress Is Quietly Nudging NASA to Look for Aliens

    The space agency hasn’t funded the search for extraterrestrial intelligence for 25 years. Could that soon change?

    Marina Koren

    May 9, 2018

    In October 1992, astronomers kicked off an ambitious project years in the making. Two radio telescopes, one in Puerto Rico and the other in California, started scouring the night sky for potential signals from alien civilizations somewhere deep in the cosmos.

    “We begin the search,” declared Jill Tarter, the project scientist, as the telescopes started listening around glimmering stars many light-years from Earth.

    A year later, the search was suddenly over. A senator from Nevada wiped out all funding for any efforts in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, in NASA’s budget, including this new project.

    “The Great Martian Chase may finally come to an end,” declared Senator Richard Bryan, after Congress approved a NASA funding bill with zero mention of SETI. “As of today, millions have been spent and we have yet to bag a single little green fellow. Not a single Martian has said take me to your leader, and not a single flying saucer has applied for FAA approval.”

    The search for extraterrestrial life, in general, would continue, of course, carried out by academic institutions around the world, by people like Tarter, one of the field’s best-known SETI researchers (and the inspiration for Ellie Arroway, the protagonist in Contact, Carl Sagan’s 1985 classic science-fiction novel). But they wouldn’t get any help from the feds.

    “[Bryan] made it clear to the administration that if they came back with SETI in their budget again, it wouldn’t be good for the NASA budget,” Tarter says now. “So we instantly became the four-letter S-word that you couldn’t say at headquarters anymore, and that has stuck for quite a while.”

    That could soon change. Lawmakers in the House of Representatives recently proposed legislation for NASA’s future that includes some intriguing language. The space agency, the bill recommends, should spend $10 million on the “search for technosignatures, such as radio transmissions” per year, for the next two fiscal years.

    The House bill—should it survive a vote in the House and passage in the Senate—can only make recommendations for how agencies should use federal funding. But for SETI researchers like Tarter, the fact that it even exists is thrilling. It’s the first time congressional lawmakers have proposed using federal cash to fund SETI in 25 years.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    Beyond that, technosignatures refer to a wide assortment of potential markers of advanced beings that could conceivably be spotted by telescopes, on the ground or in space. Perhaps other technologically advanced civilizations use laser transmissions to communicate. Maybe they have forged blast shields to protect themselves from invaders, or built enormous spheres to harness their star’s light and power their operations. Maybe, like us, they’ve lit their surfaces with shimmering city lights or padded their atmosphere with pollutants. Their worlds may be coated in layers of radioactive ash and smoke after a destructive nuclear war. With power and precise instruments, humans could someday detect these types of technosignatures—if they’re out there, of course.

    In 1971, NASA asked astronomers, including Sagan, to brainstorm techniques for surveying the sky for SETI signals. They came up with an ambitious plan: the construction of a giant array of 1,000 radio telescopes. By the end of that decade, they hit a snag. Bill Proxmire, a Democratic senator from Wisconsin, gave the space agency one of his made-up Golden Fleece awards, reserved for federally funded projects he thought were useless. Proxmire then tried to terminate SETI funding altogether, but Sagan convinced him to back down.

    The astronomers’ vision for a forest of telescopes never materialized, but the report they produced for NASA became the foundation for future SETI programs—including the one Tarter helped lead before it was gutted.

    So, why now, after 25 years, do lawmakers appear willing to lift SETI’s taboo status?

    The short answer is that someone in Congress is into it. The provision comes from Lamar Smith, a Republican congressman from Texas, who worked with the SETI Institute to craft the language, according to SETI researchers. Smith is a controversial figure in the scientific community because of his climate-change denial, but he is a fervent supporter of astronomy research (though he’s retiring in November). Seth Shostak, the senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in California, says Smith has visited the institute and once sat next to Shostak’s mother during a SETI talk at the Library of Congress. (Smith’s office did not confirm whether the measure originated with him, but shared a statement from the senator about astrobiology. “It’s clear that the scientific community and the public is very interested in this research,” Smith said.)

    The longer, more meaningful answer has to do with how much the field of astronomy has changed in the last 25 years. Our knowledge and understanding about the cosmos has changed dramatically since Bryan’s crusade. [Bryan was still an ignoramus any way you slice it, and a damaging one at that.]

    As humans developed more powerful telescopes and techniques, as they looked deeper into the cosmos, as far as the earliest stars, the friendlier to life, or at least the possibility of its emergence, the cosmos began to seem. When Bryan terminated NASA’s SETI funding, the only planets we know of were those in our solar system. Today, there are 3,725 known exoplanets and counting. More than 900 of those are thought to have solid, rocky surfaces like Earth. The majority of these discoveries come from Kepler, a NASA spacecraft that launched nearly a decade ago.

    Since its inception, SETI has suffered from a giggle factor. Today, after 25 years of discoveries and breakthroughs and progress, the suggestion that we might someday—and perhaps someday soon—stumble upon an alien civilization, even the remains of one, doesn’t seem quite so silly anymore.

    Still, the perception of SETI as unscientific and frivolous, remains in some corners, particularly on Capitol Hill, where the subject is often held up as an example of misguided government spending. During a committee hearing for the proposed legislation in April, Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democratic congresswoman from Texas, invoked the technosignatures measure as she criticized her Republican colleagues’ for wanting to cut earth- and climate-science funding.

    “Where does all this money go? The majority diverts it to searching for space aliens and to the president’s unexamined initiative to build an orbiting moon base, among other things,” Johnson said. “I wish I were joking.” [A combination of ignorance and political bias in her case.]

    • Michael C. Fidler May 10, 2018, 19:50

      Today, there are 3,725 known exoplanets and counting. More than 900 of those are thought to have solid, rocky surfaces like Earth.

      The House of Cards that is the political system in Washington D.C. is finally waking up to the prospect that exoplanets are real and will be a major factor in future studies and explorations.

      The military black projects and research probably already have a good understanding of what is out there and are estimating the potential threat to our civilization. This is no longer in the realm of science fiction and as usual is now cloaked in the guise of not just national security but also planetary security. I’m sure that several very powerful congressman and senators know all about this but cannot or will not give us a clue. The general plan is to do just the opposite and create disinformation and confusion on the subject.

      I remember when I was in the Air Force and stationed at a radar site in Alaska that all our radar manuals were stamped top secret, but the russians knew more about our freqs and technology then we did! It just goes to show you, the American public will be the LAST to know what is going on!

    • AlexT May 11, 2018, 2:22

      “Still, the perception of SETI as unscientific and frivolous, remains in some corner”.
      I suppose that organization like “SETI Kingsland” , decredits and plaguing whole SETI so hardly, so I am not surprised by those suspictions from every government .
      I very support SETI efforts, but in same time, I see that there is scams (like SETI Kingsland) that are using SETI name as excuse to spend someones money vithout any possibility to control (because meanwhile there is only “negative” results from SETI research meanwhile, and none can give even 1% probability that results can be positive)…

      • Michael C. Fidler May 11, 2018, 10:27

        AlexT, we are just part of the universe looking back on itself. The mind of mankind does not see beyond itself unless it tries to grasp the beauty and comprehend the magic the universe, that is only done with an open mind.

        • AlexT May 13, 2018, 7:03

          I hope, when you write “open mind”, it does not mean blind belief to every information or disinformation .

      • Michael C. Fidler May 12, 2018, 6:53

        Well, you may be right, so where does SETI Kingsland get there money from and do you have info on their scam?

        • AlexT May 13, 2018, 4:15

          I will try to explain, SETI Kingsland proclaim about SETI using “particle entanglement”, but present days there is one obvious fact – homo sapiens deos not know how to use particle entaglement for communication.
          So in the reality we do not know how to send message from one table located in the human lab to another in same lab , i.e. from Alice to Bob (I mean traditional experiment) , but SETI Kingsland already spens funds for communication with ETI using this unknow method :-)
          By the way if someone will invent method to use particle entanglement for FTL communication, I suppose he/she will be perfect candidate for Nobel prize :-) and will be Father of the new quantum mechanic (again, without involment of any ETI).
          Someone who really want to invent the revolutionary new communication method does not need ETI or SETI to find “angel investors”. But SETI is required for the scam who want to explain to investor why there is no any results from his investment… there is aways old good Fermi paradox…
          Please pay attention that I do not open discussion – is particle entanglement based FTL communication is possible or not, this is not important detail in this topic, in both cases the outcome is the same.

  • Michael C. Fidler May 11, 2018, 7:12

    Can Artificial Intelligence help find alien intelligence?
    May 11, 2018 7.22am AEST

    Very good article that makes some good points one of which could be the break even point for SETI: “signal agnostic searching”

    “Lucianne Walkowicz, the Astrobiology Chair at the Library of Congress, described one AI-based method as “signal agnostic searching” at Breakthrough Discuss in 2017.

    Walkowicz explained that this means using machine learning methods to look at any set of data without predetermined categories and instead let that data cluster into their “natural categories.” The software then lets us know what stands out as outliers. These outliers could then be the target of additional investigations.

    It turns out that SETI researchers think AI might be useful in their work because they believe machine learning is good at spotting difference.

    But its success depends on how we — and the AI we create — conceptualize the idea of difference.”

    Now we can take all those GPUs for cryptocurrency mining and mine for something real that will make cryptocurrency look like spare change! ;-))

    • Michael C. Fidler May 11, 2018, 7:17
    • AlexT May 11, 2018, 13:19

      Ok, now homo sapiens can rest in peace , there left to make smal number of final things:
      1. Invent real AI :-)
      2. Ask invented AI the “right” question…
      3. We are champions!
      Meanwhile do not have :
      – no any real AI
      – we do not know what we should ask from AI
      – we did not find any signs of ETI and do not have any signals or contacts from ETI .
      By the way, I am sure if somehow homo sapiens could create REAL AI – this fact it self will be best prove that there is another intlegent life – AI it self will be this “intelegent life”.

  • ljk May 11, 2018, 9:54

    I have never heard of News Nation before, but their inexcusable headline is one reason why the general public thinks that SETI and NASA receive huge amounts of government funding, which in turn is why these folks also have in their heads that getting rid of our space program and astrobiology will somehow save humanity:

    Congress to offer enormous amount of money for new SETI venture

    The Congress is putting forth a new bill to fund NASA by extending a sum of ten million dollars for the missions to find extra-terrestrial life, according to reports. The decision of the Congress to fund SETI has come for the first time in last twenty-five years.

    New Delhi, News Nation Bureau | Updated : 11 May 2018, 04:50 PM


    It is especially ironic that this media outlet used the headline that they did, considering the following quote right in their article:

    Noted astronomer Jill Tarter, who directed the SETI for thirty-five years explained the administration if they start the SETI program again then it would not stand anywhere in front of the budget of NASA.

    “Ten million at once for one year won’t do much but $10 million a year, as an ongoing funding stream, could do a great deal. It could allow people to build special-purpose instrumentation, and then use it on the sky for a long time,” Tarter said.

    Especially considering how much more has already been given for SETI research via the private individual Yuri Milner, but I wonder if the reporter was even aware of this?

    • ljk May 11, 2018, 10:49

      Here is another one, with Congress wanting to “dump money into the search for ET”:


      The lone image with this “news” item is of course some CGI of a flying saucer style UFO, though with deep irony the caption under it reads: “UFO does not mean alien spacecraft.”

      More evidence that anyone with access to the Internet is helping to kill any semblance of real journalism.

      • AlexT May 12, 2018, 1:53

        Not only bad journalists kill SETI, but also multiple type of scams that are using SETI name , for example like “SETI Kingsland” organisation, this name I met for the fist time in this blog, it was posted by some commentator and I am really shocked .
        May be people who are working on different real SETI projects should pay more attention to the SETI “trademark” protection , to filter different scams .

        • J. Jason Wentworth May 12, 2018, 22:31

          Can “SETI” be trademarked? (It isn’t a product name, like Kevlar [which is trademarked], but I don’t know.) If it can be trademarked, perhaps they should also trademark “CETI” (Communication with Extra-Terrestrial Intellegence, the originally-used term in the 1970s) while they’re at it, to prevent the troublemakers and water-muddy-ers from using CETI as a legally-allowed alternative term (if they could use CETI with impunity, they could even say, “We’re the *original* S–I!”). researchers”), but:

          I’d leave METI (Messaging Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), SETA (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Artifacts), and SETV (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Visitation) alone, because they are different, although SETI-associated, disciplines, and:

          Starry-eyed UFO maniacs love SETV (and maybe–but *just barely* maybe–their claim is legitimate), but SETV was originally about hypothesized–which may yet turn out to have occurred–ancient “manned” extrasolar expeditions to our Solar System, and evidence they may have left on the Moon, Jupiter’s moons, and/or other solar system bodies (perhaps even in rock layers on the Earth). SETA largely overlaps with SETV, but also includes inactive or active robotic interstellar probes (including Bracewell probes), purposely-dispersed (or emplaced) inscribed or electronic memory artifacts, etc.

          • AlexT May 13, 2018, 11:12

            May be trademark is not the good word in this case.
            I am not lawyer , but suppose that organization’s name can be protected too.

            • J. Jason Wentworth May 14, 2018, 1:23

              Hmmm…forming a “SETI, Inc.” or “SETI, LLC” company might enable them to legally protect SETI (and CETI, if they also wish). It might not even cause complications with the government-provided (from the National Science Foundation, etc.) funding that SETI research gets, because there are government corporations such as Amtrak and the Alaska Railroad.

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