As featured on 102.4 Radio Hartlepool's Solid Gold Sunday with Andy Fleming
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ANDY FLEMING takes a look at the scientific search for alien intelligence.
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence or SETI is the scientific search for radio signals from a technologically advanced intelligent. The SETI Institute based in Pasadena, California employs some of the world’s top astronomers as they search through millions of channels of data from the world’s most powerful radio telescopes, such as the gargantuan Arecibo dish in Puerto Rico.
The visible universe contains trillions of stars and since astronomers have discovered planets orbiting most stars, the SETI project works on the assumption that with so many planets probability dictates that intelligence life has evolved elsewhere in the cosmos, and some of it is broadcasting.
The first SETI experiment was conducted by Dr Frank Drake from the Green Bank radio telescope in Virginia in 1960. Soon afterwards he devised the famous Drake Equation that tries to provide an estimate of the number of intelligent civilisations in our galaxy. In 1974 Drake and his colleague Dr Carl Sagan sent a digitised transmission from the Arecibo dish to a group of stars known as the Hercules Cluster. These stars are tens of thousands of light years away, so it may be a while before we receive an answer!
In SETI’s fifty year history there have been a number of candidate artificial-looking signals received including the famous 1977 ‘Wow’ signal. However, none have ever been received again, and hence cannot be verified whilst others turned out to be NASA satellites. Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute is convinced that as receiving technology and the computer processing of its data become ever more powerful, it’s only going to be about twenty years before a signal is received and verified.
For more information on the SETI Institute, its work and how you can get involved in its search, visit www.seti.org