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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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NASA to Hunt for ‘Technosignatures’ of Alien Life, Hopes Giant Structures and Even Pollution Will Give Away Extraterrestrial Activity

by Cheyenne MacDonald                September 25, 2018                    (dailymail.co.uk)

• NASA hosted a ‘Technosignatures Workshop’ in Houston TX, September 26th thru 28th, to assess current efforts to find radio signals, atmospheric pollutants, or other emissions caused by extraterrestrial activity coming from deep space, that can be traced to an advanced civilization.

• Scientists have been searching for technosignatures for decades, with NASA’s own SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) work beginning in 1971. Today, NASA’s Kepler and TESS missions lead the search for worlds outside of our solar system. But even on Earth, scientists can detect signals emanating from distant sources far beyond our own skies, such as the mysterious ‘fast radio bursts’ that have been repeatedly detected in the last few years, with no solid explanation as to where they’re coming from.

• “Although we have yet to find signs of extraterrestrial life, NASA is amplifying exploring the solar system and beyond to help humanity answer whether we are alone in the universe,” NASA says.” But, signatures alone won’t confirm the existence of alien life. “We will need more than an unexplained signal to definitively prove the existence of technological life.”

 

NASA is ramping up its search for life outside of our solar system. The space agency is hosting a workshop in Houston this week to assess the state of current efforts to find ‘technosignatures’ coming from deep space and explore new areas. These signatures are those that could be traced to an advanced civilization, reaching Earth as radio signals or other emissions caused by extraterrestrial activity.

The space agency’s Technosignatures Workshop in Houston will take place from September 26 to 28 to address promising areas in the field and possible investment.

‘Technosignatures are signs or signals, which if observed, would allow us to infer the existence of technological life elsewhere in the universe,’ NASA explains.

‘The best known technosignatures are radio signals, but there are many others that have not been explored fully.’

NASA’s Kepler, and now TESS mission, have led the search for worlds outside of our solar system.
But even on Earth, scientists can detect signals emanating from distant sources far beyond our own skies.

Such is the case with the mysterious fast radio bursts (FRBS) that have been repeatedly detected in the last few years, with no solid explanation as to where they’re coming from.

Technosignatures could be radio or laser emissions, for example, or even an atmosphere full of pollutants, NASA explains.

‘Complex life may evolve into cognitive systems that can employ technology in ways that may be observable,’ NASA’s 2015 Astrobiology Strategy states.

‘Nobody knows the probability, but we know that it is not zero.’

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