Jill Tarter, an all but iconic figure in SETI, has just launched Technosearch, an Internet tool that includes all published SETI searches from 1960 to the present. A co-founder of the SETI Institute well known for her own research as well as her advocacy on behalf of the field, Tarter presents scientists with a way to track and update all SETI searches that have been conducted, allowing users to submit their own searches and keep the database current. The tool grows out of needs she identified in her own early research, as Tarter acknowledges:

“I started keeping this search archive when I was a graduate student. Some of the original papers were presented at conferences, or appear in obscure journals that are difficult for newcomers to the SETI field to access. I’m delighted that we now have a tool that can be used by the entire community and a methodology for keeping it current.”

Image: Screenshot of the Radio List on https://technosearch.seti.org/.

Among the materials included in Technosearch are:

  • Title of the search paper
  • Name(s) of observers
  • Search date
  • Objects observed
  • Facility where the search was conducted
  • Size and sensitivity of the telescope used
  • Resolving power of the instrument
  • Time spent observing each object
  • A link to the original published research paper
  • Comments that explain the search strategy
  • Observer notes

Technosearch currently contains 102 radio searches and 38 optical searches. The tool was presented yesterday at the 2019 winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle and will be maintained by the SETI Institute. The AAS meeting always produces interesting developments, including exoplanet investigations that I intend to discuss next week.

On Technosearch, a personal thought: No one who has not attempted a deep dive into the scholarship on SETI can know how frustrating it is to chase down lesser known investigations or details of major ones. The issue of ready availability extends to the broad field of interstellar flight research, as I learned when compiling materials for my Centauri Dreams book. The trail from conference presentation to published paper can be obscure, while materials relating to specific researchers can be scattered through library collections or spread over a range of journals, some of them with firewalls, or available only in expensive books..

I’ve long advocated for interstellar studies a return to what Robert Forward began with Eugene Mallove, a detailed bibliography whose last appearance was in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society in 1980. Putting such a resource online opens it worldwide and strengthens a field whose online databases are in many cases incomplete and often do not include older materials. All fields of scholarship will be following this essential path even as we continue to wrestle with academic publishers over questions of access to complete texts.

Technosearch is a step forward for SETI that helps scientists work with consolidated information while building a useful archive of contemporary work going forward. Tarter developed the tool in collaboration with graduate students working with Jason Wright (Penn State), a well-known figure in Dysonian SETI, which culls astronomical data looking for the possible physical artifacts of advanced civilizations. Also in the mix is Research Experience for Undergraduates, a program supporting students in areas of research funded by the National Science Foundation.

Image: Jill Tarter and Andrew Garcia presenting the Technosearch Tool.

SETI Institute REU student Andrew Garcia worked with Tarter in the summer of 2018:

“I started helping Dr. Tarter with this project as a research opportunity during the summer. I’ve become convinced that Technosearch will become an important instrument for astronomers and amateurs interested in exploring the cosmos for indications of other technological civilizations. We can’t know where to look for evidence tomorrow if we don’t know where we have already looked. Technosearch will help us chronicle where and how we’ve looked at the sky. I would like to thank the NSF REU program and the CAMPARE program for their encouragement and support throughout this project.”