SETI Institute in the News June 14 - 20, 2018

SETI Institute in the News June 14 - 20, 2018

Pine Mountain Observatory
Girls Reach for the Stars with SETI Institute and NASA Program

Two young women in Pomeroy, Washington are enjoying a unique opportunity to pursue their astronomical aspirations with the Girl Scouts of America, according to a local news source. In partnership with the SETI Institute and NASA, the Girls Scouts offer their girls a chance to get hands-on experience with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) through the "Reaching for the Stars" program. Subject matter is developed by experts at the SETI Institute and others to engage girls and encourage exploration of the sciences. The program allows girls like sophomore Paisley Walker to pursue their love of space, as reported by KLEW:

"Ever since I was little. I like looking at the stars at night, I like looking for constellations and learning their names and what stars are in them."

Girls Scouts enables girls to develop into innovators and leaders; KLEW reported that Walker is looking forward to using her experience to help younger girls in her community to reach for the stars as well:

"I think it's really empowering. I feel like it's a great opportunity for other girls to see girls getting to go and do this."
You can learn more about the Reaching for the Stars program on our website, SETI.org.

satellite facing the night skyAre We Alone? New Model Calculates the Odds

Motherboard noted in a recent article that “some SETI researchers like Seth Shostak are optimistic that first contact will happen any day now”, and indeed Shostak, the SETI Institute’s Senior Astronomer, has maintained the conviction that we’ll find evidence of E.T. As he wrote in an article for Nautilus in 2016:

“I’m optimistic by nature—as a scientist, you have to be. But my hopeful feeling is not wishful thinking; it is firmly grounded in the logic of SETI. Half a century sounds like a long time, but the search is truly in its early days. Given the current state of SETI efforts and abilities, I feel that we’re on the cusp of learning something truly revolutionary.”

But a new study, awaiting peer review on Arxive, suggests the odds are not in our favor. The paper critiques the use of the Drake Equation, a probabilistic tool developed by Dr. Frank Drake (SETI research pioneer and Chair Emeritus of the SETI Institute’s Board of Trustees) which is used to estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in our universe capable of communication. When treated as a simple math problem, wildly differing estimates arise – which, the researchers posit, may be a result of bias. Since few of the variables are known, some feel it lends an air of certainty to the probability of E.T. while depending on a fundamentally uncertain set of data points.

As noted by Cosmos Magazine, Dr. Jill Tarter, co-founder of the SETI Institute and Chair Emeritus for SETI Research, has described the Drake Equation as “a wonderful way of organizing our ignorance”. In many ways, the Drake Equation also serves as a concise way of thinking about the factors required for an advanced extraterrestrial civilization to arise and become detectable in the first place. Describing those factors, and expanding our understanding of life in the universe, is key to answering the question, “are we alone?”, and as Dr. Shostak wrote for Nautilus:

SETI is not a traditional science problem in which a hypothesis can be falsified. We can never prove that the aliens are not out there, only that they are. But our ability to search improves with every technological innovation. I compare the situation to the year 1491. European civilization had been around for 2,500 years, yet the Americas were not on The Albany map. Mesoamerican civilization, for its part, had been around for about as long, but also was ignorant of what lay over the oceans. With a glimpse and a shout from a sailor on the Pinta, everything changed.”

planet two moons and a starDancing to the Stars: Does E.T. Enjoy EDM?

Organizers at the music festival Sónar, held recently in Barcelona, decided to celebrate their 25th anniversary in an unusual way. Different artists created 35 different electronic dance music (EDM) songs and, with the help of the Catalonia Institute of Space Studies, sent them as a transmission to space. The target is a planet circling GJ 273, also known as Luyten’s Star, a red dwarf roughly 14 light-years from Earth.

This is not the first time music has acted as humanity’s ambassador to other worlds: the Voyager spacecraft was launched in 1977 with two golden phonograph records containing varied musical selections including works by composers like Bach and Stravinsky, as well as the music of Chuck Berry and Blind Willie Johnson. The music was selected by a team that included Carl Sagan and the “father” of modern SETI research, Frank Drake. Drake, Chair Emeritus of the SETI Institute’s Board of Trustees, also collaborated with Sagan and others to create the Arecibo message, the most powerful signal ever to be deliberately broadcast into space. The Arecibo message, sent in 1974, was mainly a demonstration of human technological achievement rather than a real attempt at communication – its target, a star cluster designated M13, is nearly 25,000 light-years from Earth.

Launching deliberate messages into space remains controversial, with some (notably, Stephen Hawking) suggesting it might even pose a danger. Regarding the “threat” of a distant civilization picking up a signal from Earth, Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer for the SETI Institute, has opined:

“Since the second world war, we’ve been broadcasting television, high-frequency radio, and – most conspicuously – radar into the heavens. Little of this is done with the intention of either entertaining or notifying aliens but is simply an inevitable leakage of radio transmissions into space.

… Any society with the capability to threaten Earth is overwhelmingly likely to already have the kit required to pick up the leakage we’ve been wafting skyward for seven decades. The requisite radio technology is far easier than the necessary rocket technology.

And since we’ve been busy for a lifetime filling the seas of space with bottled messages marking our existence and position, it’s a bit silly to fret about new bottles.”

Molly Bentley and Seth Shostak co-hosts of Big Picture ScienceClose Encounters: Jill Tarter and Seth Shostak talk UFO’s on Science Vs

Jill Tarter and Seth Shostak were guests recently on the podcast Science Vs, a show that pits facts against fads and popular opinion – in this case, the idea that the government in covering up extensive evidence of encounters with extraterrestrials. Dr. Tarter – astronomer, pioneering SETI researcher, and Chair Emeritus for SETI Research at the SETI Institute – spoke about her own UFO sighting. Tarter is joined by Dr. Shostak, the SETI Institute’s Senior Astronomer, as they tell the story of a close call with a strange signal that had SETI teams around the world on high alert.

Listeners may also enjoy Big Picture Science, a show produced here at the SETI Institute and hosted by astronomer Seth Shostak. The podcast and radio show presents a wide-angle view of science and technology, with a lively dose of humor. Dr. Shostak and co-host Molly Bentley recently investigated the scandalous Pentagon study into UFO’s that came to light in early 2018 (link below). You can find archived episodes on the SETI Institute website, SETI.org.


Big Picture Science

In last week’s episode, Skeptic Check: Flat Earth, science clashed with the “scientifical”. This week, discover the role of emotions in human behavior and compassionate computers, in an encore of Perpetual Emotion Machine.

Facebook Live

Last week on Facebook Live, SETI Institute CEO Bill Diamond spoke with senior research scientist Matt Tiscareno about this year’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, a nine-week summer internship that pairs students with SETI Institute research scientists. On our previous episode of Facebook Live, Bill Diamond interviewed astrobiologist and 2018 Drake Award recipient Dr. Victoria Meadows.
Videos of all past Facebook Live events can be found on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SETIInstitute/

Events
  • Moving Flying Mountains: Deflecting Hazardous Near-Earth Asteroids: June 27, Redwood City, CA SETI Institute Research Scientist Michael Busch will present
  • Astrobiology Australasia Conference 2018: June 25-26, Rotorua, New Zealand Seth Shostak to speak
  • Exobiology Branch Seminar: June 28, Moffett Field, CA Janice Bishop, Senior Research Scientist at the SETI institute will speak about the formation of surface clays on Mars
  • In Saturn’s Rings: July 5, Seattle, WA A new film exploring Saturn’s rings is being shown at the Museum of Flight. Nathalie Cabrol, Senior Research Scientist and Director of the Carl Sagan Center is an executive producer of the film.
  • Spacefest IX: July 5-8, Tucson, AZ Seth Shostak will be a featured speaker
  • A Cosmic Perspective: Searching for Aliens, Finding Ourselves: July 12, University of Austin, TX Jill Tarter, Chair Emeritus for SETI at the SETI Institute will present
  • 14th Quadrennial Solar-Terrestrial Physics SymposiumJuly 9-13, Toronto, Canada Meng Jin, SETI Institute Research Scientist is one of the invited speakers
  • COSPAR 2018: July 14-22, Pasadena, CA Seth Shostak to present “Red Dwarf Star Survey with the ATA
  • SETI Talks: July 19, Menlo Park, CA VR/AR in Space: The Next Revolution? Timoni West of Unity Labs, Amaresh Kollipara who serves on the SETI Institute Board of Trustees, and SETI Institute scientists Franck Marchis and J.R. Skok will present
  • WorldCon 76: August 16-20, San Jose, CA Franck Marchis to participate in a panel discussion.
  • International Astronomical Union: August 20-31, Vienna, Austria Franck Marchis, SETI Institute Senior Scientist will speak about adaptive optics and the Unistellar eVscope
  • Astrobiology Australasia Conference 2018: June 25-26, Rotorua, New Zealand Seth Shostak to speak
  • Spacefest IX: July 5-8, Tucson, AZ Seth Shostak will be a featured speaker
  • 14th Quadrennial Solar-Terrestrial Physics SymposiumJuly 9-13, Toronto, Canada Meng Jin, SETI Institute Research Scientist is one of the invited speakers
  • COSPAR 2018: July 14-22, Pasadena, CA Seth Shostak to present “Red Dwarf Star Survey with the ATA”
  • WorldCon 76: August 16-20, San Jose, CA Franck Marchis to participate in a panel discussion.
  • International Astronomical Union: August 20-31, Vienna, Austria Franck Marchis, SETI Institute Senior Scientist will speak about adaptive optics and the Unistellar eVscope