David Kirkpatrick

April 19, 2010

SETI to release radio data on search for extraterrestrial life

Hot from today’s inbox, news from SETI that tremendously expands the brainpower brought to bear on its massive collection of radio telescope data.

The release:

SETI Institute Announces Public Availability of Radio Telescope Signal Data in Latest Milestone for Director Dr. Jill Tarter’s 2009 TED Prize Wish to Enlist all Earthlings in Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., April 19 /PRNewswire/ — SETI Institute, an interdisciplinary scientific organization that explores the nature of life throughout the universe, announced that starting today it will make large quantities of astronomical radio telescope data accessible to astronomers and other scientists as part of an effort to build a global community of searchers for evidence of extra-terrestrial intelligence.

Today’s announcement represents the latest milestone in SETI Institute’s mission to facilitate mass collaboration in the search for civilizations beyond earth.  The radio telescope data will be released by setiQuest, a program formed in 2009 after SETI Institute Director Dr. Jill Tarter was awarded the 2009 TED Prize, whose benefits included $100,000 and the assistance of the global TED community to help realize her “One Wish to Change the World.”  Accepting the prize, Dr. Tarter asked the TED community to “empower Earthlings everywhere to become active participants in the ultimate search for cosmic company.”

After months in development, the setiQuest program has reached the point where it is able to invite the global scientific community to access radio signal data collected by SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array (ATA).  Commissioned in 2007, the Allen array is operated jointly by SETI Institute and the University of California at Berkeley. It is a “Large Number of Small Dishes” (LNSD) telescope array designed to conduct surveys for both conventional radio astronomy by the university, as well as for SETI Institute’s research.

SETI Institute analyzes the ATA radio data in real time with special software to detect technological signals from a distant extra-terrestrial civilization.  The process is analogous to listening to one hundred million radios, each tuned to a different channel and attached to an antenna that is highly sensitive to just one millionth of the sky, to find faint signals.

To date, SETI Institute’s methods have focused on the search for what are called narrowband signals. One of the benefits of opening the ATA data to the global scientific community is to invite development of techniques to analyze broadband signals.

The radio telescope data will be made available through setiQuest’s website, www.setiquest.org, in the form of files containing streams of data samples from specific targets in space. Data can be accessed by registered participants in the setiQuest program.  SETI Institute hopes that by making the ATA data widely available, scientists around the world will develop new and innovative ways to process the massive quantities of radio signals streaming from space every second.

SETI Institute search programs have processed data in real time and discarded it shortly after the observation. They are capturing these new data sets to invite the public to expand the search. Now, setiQuest will provide a day’s worth of ATA data each week, and will leave the data on its website for up to six months.

While astronomers and specialists with experience in digital signal processing (DSP) may by the likely initial population of scientists and technologists with an interest in setiQuest, the program welcomes scientists and technologists of all disciplines.  Those interested in learning how they can be part of the setiQuest project can find more information at www.setiQuest.org.

For more details of the progress of Dr. Tarter’s TED Prize wish, visit http://www.tedprize.org/jill-tarter/.

About SETI Institute

The mission of SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe. At SETI Institute biologists, physicists, chemists, astronomers, ecologists, planetary scientists, geologists, engineers, technologists, and educators join forces in the quest to find life elsewhere. This includes the search for potentially inhabited planets in our Solar System and beyond, laboratory and field investigations of the origins and early evolution of life, and studies of the potential of life to adapt to future challenges on Earth and in space. For more information about SETI, visit www.seti.org.  For information about setiQuest, visit www.setiquest.org.

Source: TED Conferences

August 12, 2008

EVLA’s hardware tests out

Great news for astronomy fans, the advanced digital hardware of the Expanded Very Large Array (EVLA) radio telescope passed its first test. This hardware is designed to combine signals from the telescopes improved radio-telescope antennas to produce high rez images of target objects.

From the link:

By upgrading the 1970s-era electronics of its original Very Large Array (VLA), NRAO is creating a major new radio telescope that is ten times more sensitive than before. Using the EVLA, astronomers will observe fainter and more-distant objects than previously possible and use vastly improved analysis tools to decipher their physics.

The heart of the new electronics that makes this transformation possible is a high-performance, special-purpose supercomputer, called the WIDAR Correlator. It has been designed and is being built by the National Research Council of Canada at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) of the Herzberg Institute for Astrophysics, and serves as Canada’s contribution to the EVLA project.

The design of the correlator incorporates an NRC-patented new digital electronic architecture. The successful test, at the VLA site 50 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico, used prototype correlator electronics to combine the signals from two upgraded VLA antennas to turn them into a single, high-resolution telescope system, called an interferometer. The technical term for this achievement is called “first fringes.”

Each upgraded EVLA antenna produces 100 times more data than an original VLA antenna. When all 27 antennas are upgraded, they will pump data into the WIDAR correlator at a rate equal to 48 million digital telephone calls. To process this torrent of data, the correlator will make 10 million billion calculations per second.