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Science Highlight: ET Radio Home?

Not to start a paragraph like a first-year college student writing a composition seminar paper, but since the dawn of time, humanity has wondered if humanity is alone in the universe. It's only recently that humanity has been able to do more than wonder, since coherent dedispersion and multi-million-channel spectrometers were not around in times of yore, or if they were, Aristotle didn't know about them.

Most of what the world has heard lately about SETI research is that the Allen Telescope Array (ATA), the SETI Institute's in-progress interferometer (set of telescopes that work together as one telescope), has been shut down due to lack of funding. Jill Tarter, the head of the SETI Institute, was supposed to attend the data conference that happened here in Green Bank last week, but she was chasing down private donors. Jill Tarter, by the way, is the person on whom Contact's Ellie Arroway was based.

On a side, private, look-how-science-fancy-I-am note, at a SETI conference last year, Tarter left her bag on the Green Bank tour bus, and I found it and gave it to her. She said, "Thanks." My twelve-year-old self would have died for this interaction.

However bad/sad the SETI Institute's news is, however, that doesn't mean no research can be done. Researchers can still use other telescopes to collect data, and they're coming up with new strategies to make their search more focused and realistic.

You may recall my post several months ago about Kepler, NASA's satellite telescope that searches 24/7 for extrasolar planets. So far, it has found 1,235 potential planets, some of which are semi-fraternal twins of Earth. These Earth-like planets are a good place for SETI researchers to start looking, since the only thing we know for sure about life in the universe is that it can grow and thrive and lead to the development of naked mole rats on Earth. While life may be able to develop in vastly different environments and may have, say, arsenic-loaded DNA, we don't know for sure that it can/has, while we know that it can and has on Earth with things like water and moderate temperatures.

So a new SETI survey, which was awarded 24 hours on the Green Bank Telescope, will look at 86 of the Kepler planetary systems over a range of 800 MHz (simultaneously) to see whether any synthetic signals are detected.

Wheras before, SETI researchers had to point at Sun-like stars, Kepler has given them the means to point at Earth-like planets--basically, to scientifically zoom in on what they want.

The data from the observations will then be processed by SETI@home users, or people who sign up to have their CPUs analyze survey data while they're sleeping.

Check out the press release here.

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