At SETI, telescopes are once again searching planetary systems for signals that would be evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence. Among its first targets are some of the exoplanet candidates recently discovered by NASA’s Kepler space telescope.
SETI stands for “search for extraterrestrial intelligence.” Jill Tarter, the Director of the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute. She said:
This is a superb opportunity for SETI observations. For the first time, we can point our telescopes at stars, and know that those stars actually host planetary systems – including at least one that begins to approximate an Earth analog in the habitable zone around its host star. That’s the type of world that might be home to a civilization capable of building radio transmitters.
SETI’s Alan Telescope Array (ATA) had been placed in hibernation mode last April as the result of the withdrawal of the SETI Institute’s former partner, U.C. Berkeley, due to budgetary shortfalls. Berkeley was the operator of the Hat Creek Observatory in northern California where the ATA is located.
With new funding recently acquired for observatory operations, the ATA can resume SETI observations where it left off: examining the thousands of new candidate planets found by Kepler. Highest priority will be given to the handful of worlds discovered so far that are located in their star’s habitable zone: the range of orbital radii where temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist. Most astrobiologists consider that liquid water is the sine qua non for life. Tarter said:
In SETI, as with all research, preconceived notions such as habitable zones could be barriers to discovery. So, with sufficient future funding from our donors, it’s our intention to examine all of the planetary systems found by Kepler.
The restart of SETI work at the ATA has been made possible thanks to the interest and generosity of the public who supported SETI research via the http://www.SETIStars.org website. Additional funds necessary for observatory re-activation and operations are being provided by the United States Air Force as part of a formal assessment of the instrument’s utility for Space Situational Awareness (see http://www.seti.org/afspc for more information).
Bottom line: New funding has allowed SETI’s Alan Telescope Array (ATA) to return to searching planetary systems for signals of extraterrestrial intelligence. Among its first targets are some of the exoplanet candidates recently discovered by NASA’s Kepler space telescope.