Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: EDUCATION AND HUMAN RESOURCES | Award Amount: 415.83K | Year: 2014
This award will support the renewal the REU Site at the SETI Institute (SI), which focuses on astronomy and planetary science with a connecting theme of astrobiology. Ten student participants per year will be paired with SI scientists to conduct laboratory research at both SI and at the NASA Ames Research Center. The undergraduate students will perform detailed research into a variety of topics, including the interstellar medium, asteroids, geological activity on Mars, and spectroscopy of the outer solar system. In addition, all participants will attend tutorials by SI scientists on introductory concepts in astronomy, biology, and geology.
By offering high-quality research experiences to students at a critical stage of undergraduate education, the REU Site will contribute to increasing the nationwide pool of scientists and engineers. Participants will develop the research methods and analytical skills (mathematical, computational, and logical) necessary to process data, understand primary research, and to remain current with new developments in the field. The REU Site also has an active and highly developed plan to recruit underrepresented minorities into its program, which will expand STEM training opportunities to these groups.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - A curious radio signal picked up by a Russian telescope is probably not a transmission from an extraterrestrial civilization, but astronomers in California are taking a second look anyway, the SETI Institute said on Tuesday. A group of Russian astronomers last year detected what appeared to be a non-naturally occurring radio signal in the general location of a star system 94 light-years from Earth. Their findings emerged after Italian researcher Claudio Maccone, who chairs the International Academy of Astronautics committee on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, told colleagues of a presentation he heard about the signal, said Seth Shostak, a director at the SETI Institute. "I don't think we're taking it terribly seriously," Shostak said. "The Russians looked in this direction 39 times, and as best we can tell they found it once." Most likely, the radio signal was caused by terrestrial interference or a satellite, a common occurrence, Shostak told Reuters. If the Russians thought they had a serious signal from ET, he said, they also likely would have disclosed it sooner. "They didn't say anything about it for more than year. If we had found a signal, we'd check it out and call up other astronomers to check it out as well," Shostak said. Nevertheless, SETI astronomers have spent the last two nights using an array of radio telescopes in California to study the suspect star, HD 164595, which has one known planet in orbit. The planet is about the size of Neptune, but circles its star far closer than Mercury orbits the sun. HD 164595 could have other planets in orbit that are more suitably positioned for water, which is believed to be necessary for life. So far, though, astronomers have not detected any unusual signals from the star, Shostak said. "We have to be very careful not to get cynical about false alarms," he said. "It's easy to say 'Aw man, it's just another case of interference,' but that risks not paying attention when you should."
In late August 2016, astronomers used the SETI Institute's Allen Telescope Array to search for a possible SETI signal that a Russian team had spotted in May 2015. This signal, which originally seemed to be coming fro False alarms like this one are all part of the process of hunting for extraterrestrial life. Researchers find something interesting, and then they — and their colleagues around the world — try to figure out what it means, said Seth Shostak, senior astronomer with the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, California, who was not part of the detection team. Indeed, the SETI Institute pointed the Allen Telescope Array, a network of radio dishes in northern California, at HD 164595 on Sunday and Monday nights (Aug. 28 and Aug. 29). They found nothing. But Shostak and his colleagues will continue investigating promising candidate signals and exoplanet targets throughout the galaxy, he said. "One can easily get kind of cynical about these things — 'Oh, man, another one of these false alarms,'" Shostak told Space.com on Monday, speculating that the HD 164595 signal might be a false alarm. "You have to guard against that, because, in this business, there are going to be a lot of false alarms." Copyright 2016 SPACE.com, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
News Article | April 1, 2016
Red dwarfs are known for being small, cool, dim stars, but some astronomers believe planets around these stellar bodies may also be the best place to find alien life. Researchers are studying 20,000 of these diminutive stellar bodies in an effort to find extraterrestrials. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) Institute is undertaking a massive study of the dim stars, which are plentiful through the galaxy. Astronomers typically study stars much like our sun in an effort to detect alien civilizations. The traditional thought is that life is most likely to form in planetary families similar to that in our own solar system. This new study is seeking evidence of life on planets orbiting dim red dwarf stars, which were previously ignored up to this time. Stars of this type are the most common variety in the galaxy, meaning life around one of these stars is likely to be closer than a civilization discovered around a sun-like star. "Significantly, three-fourths of all stars are red dwarfs. That means that if you observe a finite set of them – say the nearest twenty thousand – then on average they will be at only half the distance of the nearest twenty thousand sun-like stars" said Seth Shostak, an astronomer at the SETI Institute. Life is most likely to form on planets within the so-called "habitable zone" around their parent stars, where temperatures are able to sustain liquid water. Because red dwarfs are significantly cooler than our sun, the habitable zones around their bodies are much thinner, and closer to the star, than seen in our own solar system. Because planets would need to be so close to red dwarf to prevent water from freezing, they would likely be in gravitational lock with their stars, with one side always facing toward the stellar body. This would likely result in a situation where one hemisphere of such a planet would experience perpetual scorching heat, while the dark side remains in a deep freeze. Many astronomers believe such conditions make these planets unlikely to support life. However, oceans and atmospheres on these worlds may mitigate temperature extremes, causing much of the planet to be habitable. The total lifetime of stars is determined solely by their mass, and red dwarfs live far longer than stars like our sun. This means planets around red dwarfs may have far more time for life to form, making these targets even more attractive for SETI researchers.
News Article | August 30, 2016
The astronomers working for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) are currently scanning the skies at a star system 94 light years away, after a promising signal was detected coming from that direction. But don’t pop the champagne yet – this could well be one of many blips that turn out to be a false indication of life out in the universe, according to a SETI astronomer. “We intend to completely cover this big swath of the radio dial in the next day or two,” said Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute. “A detection, of course, would immediately spur the SETI and radio astronomy communities to do more follow-up observations.” The Allen Telescope Array was swung in the direction of HD 164595 on Sunday night. But while they will be searching the section of sky around the target area, a solar system with a star similar to our sun, there are caveats about the signal. The signal was initially detected in May 2015 – but was only mentioned to the scientific community at large this week. The potentially-intelligent transmission was only noticed in one of 39 attempts by a team of Russian astronomers using a non-standard tool, Shostak explains in his blog post on the phenomenon. The RATAN-600 radio telescope at the base of the Caucasus Mountains is of an unusual design and beam shape, the astronomer writes. The observations were made over a wide section of sky – but were using bandwidth a billion times wider than normal SETI tools – and 200 times wider than even terrestrial TV signals. If it is an extraterrestrial transmission from the HD 164595 star system, that life would have to be channeling power much greater than humanity’s wildest dreams. If they were broadcasting in all directions, they would have to using 100 billion, billion watts – hundreds of times more energy than all the sunlight falling on Earth. If the transmission is aimed directly at us, it would have to be powered by about a trillion watts – “comparable to the total energy consumption of all humankind,” Shostak explains. The Allen Telescope Array was swung in the direction of the star system on Aug. 28. Nothing has yet been found – but they are expanding the spectrum of frequencies in an attempt to replicate the detection. Until the signal can be confirmed, he adds, it can only be called “interesting.” “The chance that this is truly a signal from extraterrestrials is not terrible promising, and the discoverers themselves apparently doubt that they’ve found ET,” writes Shostak. “Nonetheless, one should check out all reasonable possibilities, given the important of the subject.” Another SETI signal that remains unexplained is the loud and strong detection on Aug. 15, 1977 at an Ohio State radio telescope, as reported by NPR and many other outlets. Its cause remains undetermined, despite many theories.