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Could Nearby Asteroids Be Hideouts for Alien Spies?

by Eric Mack                   March 26, 2019                   (cnet.com)

• The vast majority of asteroids orbit the sun in a wide belt between Jupiter and Mars. Some wander farther into the inner solar system near Earth’s orbit. There’s a rarer type of object called a “quasi-satellite” that may spend centuries or longer making oddly shaped orbits around our planet. One example is asteroid 2016 HO3, also known as “Earth’s Constant Companion” (pictured above). These ‘co-orbital objects’ have only come to our attention in the past decade, for the most part. (watch 1:14 minute video on asteroid 2016 HO3 below)

• James Benford, a SETI enthusiast (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has authored a paper that postulates that these “co-orbital objects [are] an attractive location for extraterrestrial intelligence to locate a probe to observe Earth while not being easily seen.” Benford refers to alien spies the sky as “lurkers.” We may not have noticed anything because any sort of ancient automated alien spy system could be dead or lie dormant for long periods of time.

• James Benford’s twin brother Gregory, an astrophysicist, also weighs in saying, “Lurkers from the far past may have done their duty and slowly failed … the ruins of Lurker installations, including mining for resources on nearby orbiting sites, may be visible, even though their animating intelligences are long gone.” “This means we should consider searches over decades-long time scales.”

• SETI focuses on looking beyond our solar system and essentially listening to distant stars for signs of life. James Benford argues that it’s much easier to prove or disprove some alien construction is in a near-Earth orbit. “We can observe them, ping them with radar, transmit messages to them, send robotic probes to them and visit them with human spacecraft missions,” writes Benford.

• Douglas Vakoch, formerly of the SETI Institute and currently president of METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence), which is funded in part by NASA, says, “The notion of searching for lurkers by transmitting to likely locations in our solar system provides an intriguing possibility for finding common ground in Active SETI.” “Some of the same individuals who have been cautious about Active SETI transmissions to other stars are advocates of pinging nearby aliens — on the grounds that the extraterrestrials would already know we are here.”

• The idea that an extraterrestrial spy satellite might be hidden near our planet isn’t new. The late Stanford professor Ronald Bracewell proposed in a 1960 paper that advanced alien civilizations might place artificial intelligence near inhabited planets to monitor the progress of less advanced worlds and perhaps make contact at some point.

• “What have we to lose by checking out these objects?” Benford writes. “Nobody has really looked at these co-orbitals, other than orbital calculations and faint images. We know almost nothing about them.” Benford plans to submit his paper to the Astrophysical Journal.

 

Plans are in the works to send a tiny spacecraft to another star system in search of alien life. But what if another civilization has already launched a similar mission to observe Earth without our knowledge?

James Benford, who authored the definitive book on high-power microwaves and has written about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, says in a draft paper that a “recently discovered group of nearby co-orbital objects is an attractive location for extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) to locate a probe to observe Earth while not being easily seen.”

              James Benford

In the paper, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, Benford refers to alien eyes in (or above) the sky as “lurkers.” He goes on to give several examples of co-orbital objects (all of which are probably asteroids) that could be worth checking for them.

Benford runs a company called Microwave Sciences that designs and consults on high-power microwave systems. He often collaborates on his SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) work with his twin brother Gregory Benford, a noted science-fiction author, and his son Dominic Benford, a scientist at NASA.

While the vast majority of asteroids orbit the sun in a wide belt between Jupiter and Mars, some wander farther into the inner solar system near Earth’s orbit.

There’s an even rarer type of object called a “quasi-satellite” that may spend centuries or longer making often oddly shaped orbits around our planet. One example is asteroid 2016 HO3, also known as “Earth’s Constant Companion,” which is detailed in the below video from NASA.

The idea that an extraterrestrial spy satellite might be hidden near our planet isn’t new. The late Stanford electrical engineering professor Ronald Bracewell proposed in an oft-referenced 1960 paper that advanced alien civilizations might place artificial intelligence near inhabited planets to monitor the progress of less advanced worlds and perhaps make contact at some point.

Of course, we have observatories keeping watch on the thousands of known near-Earth objects and discovering new ones almost daily. A handful of asteroids has been visited by spacecraft, including NASA’s Osiris-Rex and Japan’s Hayabusa-2 that are currently orbiting space rocks. So far, such observations have yielded no evidence of anything alien or artificial.

But the co-orbital objects that Benford said deserve more attention are relatively new discoveries, having come to our attention in the past decade for the most part. And we may not have noticed anything because any sort of automated alien spy system placed long ago could be dead or lie dormant for long periods of time, making it difficult to detect.

1:14 minute NASA video on Asteroid 2016 Ho3 – Earth’s Constant Companion

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Penn State Center to Focus on Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

by Geoff Rushton                   March 4, 2019                     (statecollege.com)

• The Pennsylvania State University, or “Penn State”, has received a $2.5 million endowment from alumnus John and Natalie Patton, plus another $1 million anonymous pledge, to create “PSETI” – Penn State’s SETI program (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). It will be called the Penn State Extraterrestrial Intelligence Center.

• PSETI will create a “world-class SETI research program,” establish graduate curriculum to train the next generation of researchers, initiate a competitive research grants program, coordinate conferences and symposia and establish a permanent, worldwide SETI community.

• SETI is an international scientific effort that seeks to answer whether ours is the only technologically-capable species in the Milky Way galaxy. Jason Wright, an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics who will lead the center, told Science Magazine the field has been lacking in academic training.

• SETI also has been lacking in financial support since 1993, when Congress prohibited NASA from funding it. Wright told Science that the prospect of no funding and few jobs has discouraged researchers from pursuing the field, and that he had identified only five people with doctoral degrees in SETI-related research.

 

Penn State is planning to establish an international research center dedicated to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), an initiative that would be one of only a few academic SETI research centers and would offer a graduate program training the next generation of researchers.

The university announced last week the first two donations, totaling $3.5 million, toward creating the Penn State Extraterrestrial Intelligence Center.

SETI is an international scientific effort that seeks to answer whether ours is the only technologically-capable species in the Milky Way galaxy. Jason Wright, an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics who will lead the center, told Science Magazine the field has been lacking in academic training.

“There really isn’t an academic ecosystem for the field as a whole,” Jason Wright, associate professor of astronomy PSETI Center head. “You can’t work on it if you can’t hire students and postdocs.”

SETI also has been lacking in financial support since 1993, when Congress prohibited NASA from funding it. Wright told Science that the prospect of no funding and few jobs has discouraged researchers from pursuing the field, and that he had identified only five people with doctoral degrees in SETI-related research.

Penn State will draw on its infrastructure and expertise to provide PSETI with endowment funding and administrative framework. The university’s existing astronomy and astrophysics departments and centers make it a “natural home” for a new center.

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How Paul Allen Saved the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

by Daniel Oberhaus                   October 16, 2018                (motherboard.vice.com)

• On October 15th, Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen (pictured above) died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 65. In addition to owning the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trail Blazers, Allen founded a brain science institute, an AI institute, and Stratolaunch Systems, which was exploring private spaceflight. In addition, Allen almost single-handedly rescued American SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) by donating over $30 million to scientists scanning the cosmos for intelligent radio signals.

• During the 1980’s, SETI was generally funded through participating university programs and endowments. In the 1990’s as university funding diminished, NASA began helping to fund SETI. But that only lasted a year before some in Congress complained that we were wasting money on a “great Martian chase.” SETI realized that the only hope for the future was private funding.

• Barney Oliver, the founder of Hewlett Packard laboratories and SETI supporter, contacted his billionaire buddies Bill Hewlett and David Packard, Intel founder Gordon Moore, and Paul Allen to successfully raise $20 million to keep SETI’s research moving forward.

• SETI was leasing global telescopes for its projects. But ultimately, SETI wanted its own dedicated array of radio telescopes to target hundreds of stars at a time. SETI’s founder, Jill Tarter, put together an array of 350 20-foot radio telescopes, but needed $25 million to purchase it. Paul Allen stepped up and footed the bill to create the first American SETI telescope array located in northern California. “There’s no doubt that Paul saved American SETI,” said Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute.

• By 2007, the SETI array consisted of 42 telescopes. At the dedication ceremony, Paul Allen pushed the button to turn the system on. Over the past ten years, the SETI array has analyzed 200 million signals from thousands of stars, studied unusual high-energy radio emissions, and even scanned the “spliff-shaped” Oumuamua asteroid for signs of intelligent life. Paul Allen had turned his attention to other projects, and the array was shut down for a year in 2011 due to lack of continued funding, however. But Allen remained a public supporter. Said Allen, “I think everybody would admit [the prospect of communicating with extraterrestrials] is a long shot, but if that long shot comes in…”

 

On Monday evening, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 65. At the time of his death, Allen was the 47th richest person in the world, with a net worth of $26 billion. For the last few decades of his life, Allen used his wealth for a staggering variety of business and philanthropic interests. In addition to owning the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trail Blazers, Allen founded a brain science institute, an AI institute, and Stratolaunch Systems, which was exploring private spaceflight.

Yet one of the research areas where Allen made the biggest impact was also the one he spoke about the least: the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Indeed, Allen almost single-handedly rescued American SETI by donating over $30 million to scientists scanning the cosmos for intelligent radio signals.

SETI’s early years in the United States was mostly defined by intermittent searches bankrolled with public funds, such as the National Science Foundation-funded program at Ohio State University which discovered the Wow! signal, or university endowments, such as Harvard’s Project Sentinel. By the early 90s, however, many of the early SETI programs had ended. The best hope for detecting extraterrestrial intelligence seemed to be NASA’s first foray into SETI, the Microwave Observing Program, which began observations in 1992.

             SETI founder, Jill Tarter

Less than a year after the start of NASA’s SETI program, it was killed by members of Congress who didn’t want to waste money on the “great Martian chase.” The SETI Institute, a nonprofit founded in 1984 by the radio astronomer Jill Tarter, wasn’t going to let SETI die at the hands of a few cynical congressmen, but it also realized that the only hope for the future was privately funded searches.

Fortunately, one of the earliest SETI Institute supporters was Barney Oliver, who founded and directed Hewlett Packard laboratories. So in 1993 Oliver called Bill Hewlett and David Packard of Hewlett Packard, Intel founder Gordon Moore, and Paul Allen to ask for their support.

“It probably only took Barney a few hours on the phone to get each of them to commit $1 million every year for the next five years,” Seth Shostak, the senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, told me on the phone. “I’m not sure any of them were particularly interested in SETI, but they were interested in whatever Barney thought was a good idea.”

This $20 million commitment bankrolled Project Phoenix, a SETI program that ran from 1995 to 1998. Over the course of three years, Project Phoenix rented time on the Parkes radio telescope in Australia and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia to scan for signals from 800 stars within 200-light years of Earth.

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