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SETI Institute in the News June 13 – June 19, 2019

SETI Institute in the News June 13 – June 19, 2019

Side view image of Saturn, its rings, and its moons
Saturn’s Rings Revealed

Stunning imagery captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft continues to enthrall in the wake of a study led by SETI Institute Senior Research Scientist Matt Tiscareno. Fresh insights have been gleaned through the research and have changed perspectives on Saturn’s most renowned feature, its rings. In a recent article in Cosmos Magazine, Tiscareno explained that researchers previously believed that the varying brightness of bands in the rings was due to differences in the density of the particles. Analysis now shows that different types of particles are responsible for the differences in reflected light, as revealed when scientists looked closely at individual ring segments:

When they do, Tiscareno says, the images reveal “texture belts” in which some bands of the rings look “clumpy”, while others are streaky, and still others look smoothly uniform.

We’ve never got close enough to see an individual ring particle, Tiscareno says, “but the belts of texture are driving home that we really don’t understand how the rings work on the particle level”.

He adds: “You get differences with sharp boundaries, and we don’t know why that is happening.”

Future missions to the outer planets, and Saturn in particular, may illuminate further details and allow researchers to develop more precise theories for the early formation of the solar system.

Image of the Allen Telescope ArrayBreakthrough Releases Large Data Set to Public

Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute, wrote an article describing two recent publications from Breakthrough Listen, a scientific program backed by private funding and searching for evidence of extraterrestrial technology. Writing for, Shostak called the publications “the largest release of SETI data in the history of its field”. The data represents a significant step forward in the search:

The Breakthrough Listen science team at the University of California, Berkeley's SETI Research Center (BSRC) has developed a number of techniques to search the data for "technosignatures—evidence of technology (such as transmitters or propulsion devices) built by civilizations beyond Earth… With these new results, Breakthrough Listen has completed the most comprehensive and sensitive radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) in history.

The Breakthrough Listen team is making much of the data publicly available so the wider scientific community and citizen scientists can access and use the data for future investigations and searches, as well as developing better algorithms for detecting signals of interest. While the data has so far not revealed evidence of alien life, Andrew Siemion, co-author of the study and Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI Research at the SETI Institute, told Gizmodo he is undeterred:

“I am not at all discouraged,” said study co-author Andrew Siemion when asked about the outcome of the latest search. “Seeing these new results submitted for publication is heartening in and of itself,” he told Gizmodo in an email. “These results will also help lead us toward further analysis that will place yet more stringent limits on the distribution of technologically-capable life in the universe and give us a better shot at detecting something if it’s out there.”

Ladakh, India by Nabarun BhattacharyaLooking for Life in Ladakh, India

SETI Institute Research Scientist Rosalba Bonaccorsi co-authored a recent study looking into testing astrobiology protocols and technology at sites in Ladakh, India. These sites are being suggested due to the fact that their environments are pristine, at high altitudes and useful as an analog for the early martian environment. By testing life detection techniques and equipment at these kinds of sites, researchers are better able to predict areas where and how signs of life might be found on Mars.

 Star Trek on Mars imageBoldly Go

Star Trek fans around the world rejoiced at a photo recently released by NASA showing a dune on Mars that appears unnervingly similar to Starfleet’s insignia. The Daily Mail quotes SETI Institute Senior Research Scientist Ross Beyer, who tweeted:

'Enterprising viewers will make the discovery that these features look conspicuously like a famous logo. Long ago, there were large crescent-shaped (barchan) dunes that moved across this area, and at some point, there was an eruption.

The lava flowed out over the plain and around the dunes, but not over them. The lava solidified, but these dunes still stuck up like islands.

However, as the wind continued to blow, the sand piles that were the dunes migrated away, leaving these "footprints', in the lava plain.'

While the formation is a coincidence, it’s nice to see a little nod to the beloved science fiction franchise as humanity continues to seek out new life.


Big Picture Science

In last week’s episode, the team eavesdrops on some non-human communication in an encore of  You’ve Got Whale. In our previous week’s episode, discover your next home away from home as Big Picture Science examines habitability beyond Earth, in an encore of It's Habitable Forming.

Facebook Live

Last time on Facebook Live, SETI Institute Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak spoke with Breakthrough Listen’s Danny Price and Matt Lebofsky about an enormous SETI data release. Videos of all past Facebook Live events can be found on our Facebook page:


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