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A New Hope for Life In Space

Alien life. A flurry of recent discoveries has shifted the odds of finding it. Scientists use the Kepler telescope to spot a planet the same size and temperature as Earth … and announce that there could be tens of billions of similar worlds, just in our galaxy!

Plus, new gravity data suggests a mammoth reservoir of water beneath the icy skin of Saturn’s moon Enceladus … and engineers are already in a race to design drills that can access the subsurface ocean of another moon, Jupiter’s Europa.

Meanwhile, Congress holds hearings to assess the value of looking for life in space. Seth Shostak goes to Washington to testify. Hear what he said and whether the exciting discoveries in astrobiology have stimulated equal enthusiasm among those who hold the purse strings.



A piece of Mars: This is a bit of the flank of Arsia Mons, one of Mars’ great volcanoes. The big changes in topography are ancient relics of erosion by lava and great tectonic pulling. What I like is that the scene (1.58×1.18 km, or 0.98×0.74 mi) is covered in bright dust (looks a bit like snow here, doesn’t it?). And that dust has been eroded by wind channeled through the topography. So here we see signs of flow, both from ancient lava and from more recent wind. (HiRISE ESP_031944_1790, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Just For the Fund Of It

Get ready for déjà vu as you listen to some of our favorite interviews in the past year. It’s our annual fundraising podcast. Come for the great interviews, stay for the great interviews. Lend us your support along the way.

What’s for dinner? Maybe fried bugs. Listen as we do a taste test. Speaking of dinner, learn why saliva’s acceptable as long as it’s in our mouth. But dollop some into our own soup, and we push the bowl away.

Hear adventures of space walking and of space hunting: what happens to the search for extrasolar planets now that the Kepler spacecraft is compromised, and an astronomy research project that takes our interviewer by surprise. Plus, the case for scrapping high school algebra. That’s right: No more “the first train leaves Cleveland at 4:00 pm …” problems. Also … why “The Simpsons” is chock-a-block with advanced math.

And, in a world where everyone carries GPS technology in their pockets, will humans ever get lost again – and what’s lost if we don’t.

Plus, Mary Roach gives us a tour of our digestive systems.

All this and more on a special Big Picture Science podcast.


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54 years of space exploration: an updated map that you must see

Cosmic Diary Marchis - May 19, 2014

National Geographic asked 5W Infographics to update its 50 Years of Exploration graphic, a classic that I use often in my talks to illustrate our space exploration program and its focus on the inner part of the solar system.

The updated version, renamed “Cosmic Journey“, is spectacular, better organized and easier to follow than its predecessor. It has been updated to include new missions sent over the past 4 years. The new color code includes the paths of failed, as well as successful, missions and also the nation that led them.

Cosmic Journey by Sean McNaughton, Samuel Velasco, 5W Infographics, Matthew Twombly and Jane Vessels, NGM staff, Amanda Hobbs.

If you are a fan of space exploration, I strongly recommend that you take the time to explore this map in high resolution.

The history of space exploration is still in its infancy, we are not yet the master of this technology, so  we have had many difficult moments that we call today “failures”. For instance, almost fourty missions were launched to explore Mars but fewer than half of them succeeded in reaching the planet and returning useful data. Most successful ones were led by NASA and ESA. Unfortunately, statistic show that Mars is a doomed place for probes from the Soviet/Russian space agency.

The recent diversity of colors around the Moon illustrates quite well that Earth’s satellite is becoming the new “place-to-be” for newest space-faring nations. Dominations of Russian and American (red and orange orbits) before 1990s is being replaced by a more colorful set of orbits which includes missions from the lunar exploration programs of Japan, China and India.


Thanks to the eyes of distant robots, we have also been  taking pictures of far-off bodies like Jupiter, Saturn , Uranus and Neptune, or the outer solar system. And our quest is not over- NASA’s New Horizons, on its way to the dwarf planet Pluto, will flyby that multiple system quite soon on July 15 2015. ESA is already preparing a new mission, called JUICE, to explore Ganymede, a satellite of Jupiter. We have to be patient because this spacecraft will finally enter orbit around Ganymede in 2032. For sake of completeness, I should mention that NASA is also preparing the next mission to explore Europa (e.g. Europa Clipper), with the goal of better understanding the composition and activity of its ocean.

The bottom of the diagram shows the relative positions of these deep space missions, including Voyager 1, which recently reached the interstellar space. Pioneer 10 & 11 are not too far away, but have both been shut down. Voyager 1 is  the robot, or controllable human-made spacecraft,  located farthest from our home planet.

The only downside to this spectacular map is the absence of orbits around minor bodies. Samuel Velasco, one of its creators, told me me that missions to asteroids and comets were not included because the graphic was getting too difficult to read. Tough choices had to be made.

Enjoy the map. Thanks 5Wgraphics and National Geographic for making such a beautiful illustration available to us.

Clear skies,

Franck M.




Debunking Hoagland’s “Glass Worms” with HiRISE

A piece of Mars: Several years ago, a guy named Richard Hoagland claimed that some parallel linear features on Mars looked like the ridges of a transparent earthworm, calling these things “glass worms”. Phil Plait debunked it nicely, but Hoagland stood his ground. He hasn’t said much about them lately, has he? Here’s why. New images show that, as scientists originally thought, these are nothing more than windblown ripples in the floors of channels, just like the many thousands of ripples seen all over Mars. Go science! (HiRISE ESP_035634_2160, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

We Can Rebuild It

What goes up must come down. But it’s human nature to want to put things back together again. It can even be a matter of survival in the wake of some natural or manmade disasters.

First, a portrait of disaster: the eruption of Tambora in 1815 is the biggest volcanic explosion in 5,000 years. It changed the course of history, although few people have heard of it.

Then, stories of reconstruction: assembling, disassembling, moving and reassembling one of the nation’s largest T. Rex skeletons, and what we learn about dinos in the process.

Also, the reanimation of Gorongosa National Park in Africa, after years of civil war destroyed nearly all the wildlife.

And a handbook for rebuilding civilization itself from scratch.


SETI – Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter: part 3

This is part 3 and final installment in the Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter blog. Please read parts 1 and 2 for context.

In part 2 I divided spurious opinions regarding topics in SETI into 3 categories: science-free, Anti-scientific, and convicted statements of the “self evident.” Here we take up the last of these categories.

Convicted Opinions that are not so Self-Evident

Steven Hawking is the epitome of scientific hero. He overcame dramatic life challenges to become a peerless leader in the progress of general relativity theory of gravity and quantum mechanics. When it comes to theoretical gravitation, I’m not fit to tie his bootlaces. But he isn’t God. (I hear the jingling of sharpened spoons outside my window.) As far as I know! Speaking of intelligent life elsewhere, he said[4], “To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational.” I quote this only because it is convenient to me, ha ha! I’m about to say that Hawking isn’t the best source for information about ET.

Unlike many people, Hawking still has an imagination, “I imagine they [aliens] might exist in massive ships, … become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.” Whoa! Where did that come from? Possibly… from a science fiction movie?  Proof that Steven Hawking is really a college undergraduate at heart.  (jingle…) Ahem, that was just my little joke, Mr. Dr. Professor Hawking. Sir.

It is plausible that Hawking’s comment inspired this excellent book[5], penned by scientists** who really are expert*** in SETI issues. For the greater part, experts suggest that aliens are more likely to be altruistic — willing to help us out with no expectation of immediate reward — than predatory. For example, members of a predatory species that have conquered their planet will have only each other to prey upon. This is a state of unstable equilibrium. So they had better lose their predatory instincts fast, or annihilation is inevitable in the long run. Hence, the aliens are not likely to be purely predatory.

**By sheer coincidence, this book is edited by none other than Doug Vakoch, the director for interstellar message construction at the SETI Institute, with an office a few doors down from mine.

*** At least, as expert as anyone could be.

So, what do you think? It doesn’t matter! Whether aliens exist, or don’t, is a question that will someday be answered by science. Provided we don’t give up on the search for them.

[4] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/7631252/Stephen-Hawking-alien-life-is-out-there-scientist-warns.html

[5] http://www.amazon.com/Extraterrestrial-Altruism-Evolution-Frontiers-Collection/dp/3642377491

SETI – Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter: part 2

This blog extends part 1 of a blog with the same title, and is followed by part 3.

Albeit imperfect, the radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) tests a scientific question (hypothesis), “Did intelligent life get started anywhere else in the universe?” This a scientific question (not a matter of opinion), because it has a definitive answer (yes or no) that can be tested by observing nature (i.e. with our telescope). “Is there a God?” also has a definitive answer, but it is not scientific because we have no hope that observations of nature can answer this question. The God question falls into the realm of “opinion” (sound of jingling spoons) because it can be answered only by methods outside the scientific framework. (Crickets…, OK, that’s better!)

Malformed opinions about SETI topics can be broken down into 3 types : (1) science-free, (2) conflicting with science, and (3) strongly convicted statements of the “self evident” which aren’t, really.

Ignorance is bliss (science-free) Opinions

A very readable book (meaning that I could read it all the way through), “The Elusive Wow: Searching for Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” by Robert H. Gray discusses the “WoW!” signal, observed at Ohio State University in 1977. I am critical of “WoW!” because the signal did not even pass the candidate tests in the original experiment, so why should we believe it based on arguments made after the fact? A review on Amazon [2] speaks differently. It discredits Gray’s book with the argument that, signals from far away are very weak. Wow! That’s convincing. Especially compared with actual science showing that an Arecibo-like transmissions from nearby stars can be detected, right now, by us, if we look hard enough.

Anti-scientific Opinions (conflicting with science)

A certain blog [3] states that there are even (50-50) chances of finding intelligent life around the recently-discovered exoplanet Kepler 186-f. Remember, Kepler 186-f is a “goldilocks” planet orbiting a star 500 light-years from ours. 186-f is almost the same size as Earth, presumably a rocky planet and in a “hot” (that is, not hot) orbit around its star to keep the temperature just right (that is, possibly close to a temperature) where (microbial) life (as we know it) can flourish (that is, be not immediately destroyed). And then the life must be intelligent like us and be actively transmitting in our direction. 50-50 chance, huh?

In round numbers, all targeted SETI searches until now show that fewer than 1/1000 “likely” stars harbor planets that are intentionally beaming signals toward us.* We think 1/1000 is still a pretty big number compared to something like 100000000000 planets just in our galaxy. Even better, exoplanets discovered by the Kepler telescope and other probes show that most stars have planets, and somewhere around 1/5 of stars host “habitable” planets that are favorable for the evolution of life. Promising indeed. Even so, these probabilities don’t add up to a 50-50 chance of finding intelligence.

*Are you surprised that 50 years of SETI research can say no more than that? This actually shows how little effort (money) has been expended over the years to do SETI. Not for lack of scientific interest, but simply because scientists have to eat. Write your congressional representatives and urge them to support funding for SETI research.

If anyone wants to place a bet, we have insider information on Kepler 186-f, thanks to first author Elisa Quintana, a scientist at the SETI Institute. In the few weeks between submission of the paper and announcement of the discovery of 186-f, the SETI Institute pointed its telescope ATA at Kepler 186-f as much as possible (>8 hours / day) looking for technology-generated signals between 1-9 GHz. Sadly, our observations did not discover any evidence for artificial signals from that direction. So far.

This blog is continued in part 3.

[2] http://www.amazon.com/review/R13G7YIOCUL0WN

[3] http://www.science20.com/quantum_gravity/blog/a_better_than_5050_chance_kepler186f_has_technological_life-134555

SETI – Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter: part 1

Ha ha! The title should garner angry crowds bearing sharpened spoons*, chanting before my office window in Mountain View.

*Because spoons are the only tools their caretakers will allow.

Not so seriously, a hilarious article in the tabloid, Daily Mail, is illustrative, and reminds me of the famous “heavy boots[1]” questionnaire:


Even the link is funny! An apparently reputable journal recently published results of interviews with 116 college undergraduates describing their scientific “opinions” about SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence). We leave aside the societal relevance of opinions from 18-23 year olds who’ve never worked a day in their life! (Uh oh, I hear jingling spoons again.) Ha ha, just kidding, all you large, young, and physically intimidating people attending their first years of college!  The crucial results:

(a) 82.1% think it is important to have a space agency.

(b) 71.4% think the military should have the main role in the event of contact with an alien civilisation.

(c) 80% believe if we find aliens more advanced than us they will try to conquer us.

(d) 78% believe there is a chance we’ve been visited by aliens in the past.

From (d) we infer that most undergraduates received their foundational science education from science fiction movies. This helps explain the rest. I’m most worried about question (b). Should the military be the first of “diplomats” that aliens meet?  The army has a hammer, called war. What better way to start a war than by throwing spitballs at aliens?

Actual posted comments to the article:
” When the Old Ones, who dwell among the stars return, they will put us in our place.”

“It would destroy religion and the oil industry.”

Fan favorite:

” The Vatican is at this very moment expecting to meet an alien to save the world. This will be the seed of Satan!”

The point I’m making is that SETI is a branch of science. The opposite of “science,” for want of a better word, might be called “belief.” (jingle, jingle…) Example: Recently at the ATA (visitor hours 9am-3pm M-F), a courageous young man told me straight to my face, “I don’t believe in aliens.” What was I to do? I said, “Well, it’s not a religion.” (jingle, jingle…) Ah! Not to disparage religion or any other system of beliefs.  To avoid the imminent mobs, I’ll re-label what I called “beliefs” as, “convicted opinions that cannot be tested by observations of nature,” or opinions for short.

Whether or not aliens exist is not a matter of anyone’s opinion. It is a scientific question that can and should be answered with science.

For more see parts 2 and 3 on this blog topic.

[1] http://blog.sciencegeekgirl.com/2009/11/09/myth-because-the-astronauts-had-heavy-boots/

Looking for signs of life on Kepler 186-F

Ya know? I’m really turned off by posts like this:


I should not give this guy any air, but he is an example of folks who make decisions about the value of the SETI research coming from a point of ignorance. A very readable book by Robert H. Gray discusses the observation of the “WoW!” signal, observed at Ohio State University in 1977. I see this work panned by “Tom:”


Tom discredits the book with the argument that signals from far away (alpha-centauri) will be weak. (Add your favorite sarcastic exclamation here.) There is plenty of solid physical evidence that an Arecibo-like transmission from Alpha Centauri can be detected with current Earth technology. While alpha centauri is not a particularly good location for life (as we know it), and the WoW! signal was probably an experimental glitch, I’m annoyed by criticisms that are not scientifically founded.

This blog is really about Kepler-186-f, a recently discovered proto-Earth planet that made the cover of Science on 18-April-2014. First author Elisa Quintana is a SETI Institute principle investigator. Thanks to this “inside track,” we at the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) had a 3-week head start doing SETI on 186-f before any other observatory, looking for signs of extraterrestrial technology. In case you haven’t heard, the ATA is a radio interferometer telescope designed especially for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) in the terrestrial microwave window (TMW, 1-10 GHz) and running 12 hours every day, looking for signs of interstellar communications. The ATA is especially suited for SETI searches since it has an instantaneous coverage from 1-9 GHz, and we’re not afraid to use it! Most SETI searches look only in lower frequencies (1-3 GHz). The ATA leads the field in recognizing that the entire TMW is fair game for interstellar communications.

In the 3 weeks leading up to announcement of 186-f, the ATA covered 1-9 GHz looking for technological signals 2-3 times, with a sensitivity of ~100 Jy in 1 Hz (that is, a very good sensitivity). Looking back more than just once is important at frequencies >4 GHz, because SETI signals may experience fading (an AM radio term, and familiar to anyone who’s tried to pick up AM radio from Chicago) on the way to Earth. Multiple observations increase the likelihood that our telescope will detect the signal.

Simply put, if about 500 years ago, 186-f were transmitting a tuning-fork like radio beacon, then we would have seen it.  Provided their transmitter were at least 8x as powerful as the most powerful transmitter on Earth, the Arecibo planetary radar. Considering that ET probably has better technology than humans do (since they are older than us), this is far from impossible.

Kepler 186-f is just the first of uncountable planets that could harbor life “as we know it.” Extrapolations of Kepler results suggest that Earth-like planets are abundant. Still, life as we know continues to be evasive. As Fermi put it, “Where are they?”

How we know wind blows down Olympus Mons’ flanks

A piece of Mars: It’s similar to my last post, but I love these wind tails. This is a tiny bit of the eastern slope of the gigantic volcano, Olympus Mons. The dusty surface has been covered by boulders (the largest of which is ~20 m, or 65 ft), probably flung there from a distant meteor impact on Mars. Winds screaming from the top of the volcano (from the left) have formed wind tails in the lee of these boulders. And there are some funky little ripples on them. (ESP_035663_1985, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Smiley Virus

For many, the word virus is a synonym for disease – diseases of humans, plants, and even computers. Ebola is an example: a virus with a big and terrifying reputation. And yet the vast majority of viruses are not only friendly, they are essential for life.

Find out how viruses make plant life in Yellowstone’s hottest environments possible, and fear your spinach salad no longer: a scientist recruits viruses to defeat E. coli bacteria.

Plus, a new study presents the disconcerting facts of just how far a sneeze travels, and viruses in another kind of culture: but is ours benevolent? Find out from the man who coined the term, “viral media.”


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The wind giveth and the wind taketh away

A piece of Mars: In the center of this image is a 270 m crater (885 ft) that was nearly buried, along with the surrounding terrain, by dust. Since then, wind from the upper left has scoured the dust deposit, forming streamlined horse-tail shapes. A few meter-scale boulders, possibly flung in from nearby impacts, show the most recent streamlined erosion. (ESP_035994_1805, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Skeptic Check: What, We Worry?

We all have worries. But as trained observers, scientists learn things that can affect us all. So what troubles them, should also trouble us. From viral pandemics to the limits of empirical knowledge, find out what science scenarios give researchers insomnia.

But also, we discover which scary scenarios that preoccupy the public don’t worry the scientists at all. Despite the rumors, you needn’t fear that the Large Hadron Collider will produce black holes that could swallow the Earth.

It’s Skeptic Check, our monthly look at critical thinking … but don’t take our word for it!


Inspiration for this episode comes from the book, What Should We Be Worried About?: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night edited by John Brockman.

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Big ripples near Opportunity

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - April 28, 2014

A piece of Mars: This shows the location of the rover Opportunity as of late March, 2014. It’s been trolling around the rim of Endeavour crater. Just inside the crater, there are some large ripples (the biggest is ~10 m wide) that have formed from erosional scours in dark sediments on the crater interior walls. The rover won’t ever go over there, but maybe it will climb to the other side of the rim and take some nice images of them. (HiRISE ESP_035909_1775, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Our Tasteless Show

ENCORE Imagine biting into a rich chocolate donut and not tasting it. That’s what happened to one woman when she lost her sense of smell. Discover what scientists have learned about how the brain experiences flavor, and the evolutionary intertwining of odor and taste.

Plus a chef who tricks tongues into tasting something they’re not. It’s chemical camouflage that can make crabgrass taste like basil and turn bitter crops into delicious dishes – something that could improve nutrition world-wide.

Meanwhile, are we a tasty treat for aliens? Discover whether we might be attractive snacks for E.T. And, out-of-this-world recipes from a “gAstronomy” cookbook!


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First released March 11, 2013

Inflation is Real!

Cosmic Diary by Gerry Harp - April 21, 2014

Why is the universe so homogenous? It should be a lot more clumpy.

Right after the Big Bang, the universe was still quite small and all the matter was compressed in this small volume. So gravity should have played a big role, causing all the matter to clump together with large areas of empty space in between.

Decades ago, some theorists developed the “inflation” theory to explain this fact. They said that right after the big bang, the universe expanded super incredibly fast. So fast that gravity didn’t have time to clump the matter together. This is why matter is spread so evenly, like a thin layer of peanut butter over a slice of bread, throughout the visible universe.

Lots of scientists didn’t believe it. I was among them. This didn’t make any sense because the expansion rate would be so fast, in a way, faster than the speed of light. Couldn’t happen.

Well, now we have physical proof that inflation really did happen.


This is really amazing. I’m glad I was wrong — it is so much more interesting this way!

Uniquely martian

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - April 21, 2014

A piece of Mars: Now here’s something that, as far as I know, can safely be labeled as “uniquely martian”. These dunes (or maybe they’re ripples) are ~25 m wide, and have formed from winds blowing from the upper left. Their upwind sides are smoothed by constant erosion from incident sand-laden winds, but their downwind sides are as bumpy as the surrounding surface. What makes this bumpy texture? (ESP_035305_1740, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Happily Confused

Do you feel happy today? How about happily disgusted? Maybe sadly surprised, or sadly disgusted? Human emotions are complex. But at least they’re the common language that unites us all – except when they don’t. A tribe in Namibia might interpret our expression of fear as one of wonderment. And people with autism don’t feel the emotions that others do.

So if you’re now delightfully but curiously perplexed, tune in and discover the evolutionary reason for laughter … how a computer can diagnose emotional disorders that doctors miss … and why the world’s most famous autistic animal behaviorist has insight into the emotional needs of cattle.


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First Discovery Of An Earth-Sized Planet In The Habitable Zone

Cosmic Diary Marchis - April 17, 2014

Source: SETI Institute Press-release

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA – For the first time, an Earth-sized planet has been found in the habitable zone of its star. This discovery not only proves the existence of worlds that might be similar to our own, but will undoubtedly shape future investigations of exoplanets that could have terrestrial surface environments.

Artistic view of a Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of its star. Credit: D. Futselaar/SETI Institute

The new-found body, orbiting the red dwarf star Kepler-186 and designated Kepler-186f, is the fifth – and outermost – world to be discovered in this system. The results are described in an article appearing in Science.

“This is the first definitive Earth-sized planet found in the habitable zone around another star,” says lead author Elisa Quintana of the SETI Institute at NASA Ames Research Center. “Finding such planets is a primary goal of the Kepler space telescope. The star is a main-sequence M-dwarf, a very common type. More than 70 percent of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy are M-dwarfs.”

Of the nearly 1800 confirmed exoplanets found in the past two decades, approximately twenty orbit their host star in the habitable zone – a range of orbital distances at which surface water on a planet with an atmosphere would neither freeze nor boil. However, all of these previously discovered worlds are larger than Earth, and consequently their true nature – rocky or gaseous – is unknown. On the basis of the observed dimming of starlight from Kepler-186, the authors estimate that this newly discovered planet is roughly the same size as the Earth.


Thomas Barclay, a staff scientist for the Kepler mission affiliated with both NASA and the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute, notes that “theoretical models of how planets form suggest that those with diameters less than 1.5 times that of Earth are unlikely to be swathed in atmospheres of hydrogen and helium, the fate that’s befallen the gas giants of our own solar system. Consequently, Kepler-186f is likely a rocky world, and in that sense similar to Venus, Earth and Mars.”

The new planet orbits at a distance of 0.36 astronomical units from its star, or slightly closer than Mercury is to the Sun. Its orbital period is 130 days.

Traditionally, planets orbiting red dwarf stars were considered to be poor candidates for life. The objection was that star-hugging planets in the habitable zone would become tidally locked, and suffer a synchronous or pseudo-synchronous rotation that could make climate on these planets untenable. However, more recent modeling studies suggest that such worlds are not necessarily inhospitable, since atmospheric winds or ocean currents could even out extreme temperature variations . In addition, Kepler-186f is far enough away from its host star that it is unlikely to be locked. This greater distance also reduces the danger to any potential life forms posed by stellar flares, which are more common for dwarf stars.


Since 2012, the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array has been observing Kepler

candidate exoplanets looking for signals that would indicate extraterrestrial intelligence. A search for emissions from Kepler-186f has been made over the very wide frequency range of 1 to 10 GHz, but none have so far been found. These observations will be repeated. Note that a detectable signal would require a transmitter approximately 10 to 20 times more powerful than the planetary radar system at Arecibo, in Puerto Rico.


According to Quintana, at 490 light-years Kepler-186f may be too dim for follow-up surveys to probe its atmosphere, even with next-generation telescopes. “However, our research tells us that we should be able to find planets around bright stars that will be ideal targets to observe with James Webb.” NASA’s Webb space-based telescope, now under construction, will be able to directly image planets around nearby dwarf stars, and use spectral analysis to characterize their atmospheres.


Finding Kepler-186f is a first, but “it’s not a record we wish to keep,” Quintana says. “We want to find more of these.”


Tidally locked planet around an M-type star (credit: Seth Shostak/SETI Institute)



Elisa Quintana

SETI Institute

E-mail: elisa.quintana@nasa.gov

Tel: +1 650 604-2467


Thomas Barclay
E-mail: thomas.barclay@nasa.gov

Tel: +1 650 604-3560


Karen Randall, Media Contact
SETI Institute
E-mail: krandall@seti.org
Tel: +1 650 960-4537



About the SETI Institute:

The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe. The Institute is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific research, education and public outreach. It comprises three centers, the Center for SETI Research, the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe and the Center for Education and Public Outreach. Founded in November 1984, the SETI Institute today employs over 150 scientists, educators and support staff. For more information, www.seti.org 650-961-6633.



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