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SETI Program Essay

Bertrand Russell wrote, “There are two possibilities. Maybe we are alone.

Maybe we are not. Both are equally frightening (Jakosky 1). ” The question oflife in the universe is one that leaves many in a state of bewilderment. Itbecomes even more interesting when it leads to another question that ofintelligent life in the universe. Finding other intelligent civilizations amongthe interstellar space would greatly affect every aspect of our existence.

Conversely, not finding such a civilization would force us to examine thepurpose of our own existence. To help answer the question, astronomers andscientists set up a program in search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Thisprogram, or SETI, was set up to verify, by observation that extraterrestriallife does exist. SETI tries to prove this by picking up and analyzing radiosignals by means of satellites and advanced computers (Heidmann 116).

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Thehistory of the SETI program is quite interesting. It started back in 1959 withthe help of two famous Cornell University physicists, Guiseppi Cocconi and PhilMorrison. Both claimed that it would be possible to communicate with otherpotential extraterrestrial life in space by the use of techniques used in radioastronomy (Heidmann 112). Together, they voiced their belief that if other”alien astronomers” elsewhere in the universe possessed radio telescopes,that it would be possible to converse between the two (Heidmann 112-113).

Ayoung astronomer by the name of Francis Drake agreed with the theories ofCocconi and Morrison. He proposed building a radio receiver in order to listenfor waves of sound being transmitted through space. It wasnt until the springof 1960 that Drake began his first project of SETI, Ozma. In this project, hewas the first to conduct a search for signals transmitted from other solarsystems. For two tedious months, Drake pointed an eighty-five foot antenna inthe direction of two starts the same age as our sun, Tau Ceti and Epsil.

Asingle 100Hz-channel receiver scanned nearly 400kHz of bandwidth, for a repeatedseries of patterned pulses that would indicate an intelligent message (Heidmann113-144). Unfortunately, the only sound that came from the speaker was static. Though no intelligent life was found and project Ozma proved to be nothing but adisappointment, it actually spurred the interest of others who created afeasible scientific objective (“Project Ozma”). In the 1960s the SovietUnion dominated much of the SETI program. However in the 1970s NASAs AmesResearch center, located in California began to take over.

After nearly a decadeof study and preliminary research, the NASA headquarters fully funded andadopted the SETI program. However, five years later Congress ruled the program afoolish unnecessary scientific endeavor that wasted valuable funding. Congressthen decided to not allow NASA to support SETI and terminated the funding(“History of SETI”). Despite the obstacle, the SETI program was reborn,forming the SETI Institute. Its first privately funded project, ProjectPhoenix, is the worlds most sensitive and comprehensive search forextraterrestrial intelligence that listens to radio signals being transmittedour way.

The project focuses on Northern Stars by scanning only those that aresun-like and are more capable of supporting life (Heidmann 146). The PhoenixProject is only one of the many projects run for the search of extraterrestrialintelligence, but is one of the most important. Another highly significantproject in the search for other life would be the project run by the ColumbusOptical SETI Observatory, or COSETI. This project was formed to promote theoptical search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

In other words, it seeks todetect pulsed and continuous wave laser beacon signals in the visible andinfrared spectrums. Until 1998 however, little, or nothing was ever said toindicate that there might possibly be a sensible optical approach to SETI. Manyresearchers believe that extraterrestrials, if they exist, are so sophisticatedthat they would use lasers for their communications rather than radio waves. Itis said that by the year 2005 that most SETI activities will be of the opticalkind and that the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) could also be retrofitted forCOSETI. (“The Optical”).

One of the more recent projects that we are facedwith today is the emailprotected Home Project. This project allows the general public toget involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence by allowing them touse their home computers to search for signs of radio signals being transmittedto Earth from space (Kahney, “A Search”). Supposedly, anyone is able toparticipate by running a free program that downloads and analyzes radiotelescope data. The philosophy behind this is that the majority of the SETIprojects in existence today build large computers that analyze the datacollected from the telescopes in real time.

Apparently, none of the computershave the capacity to look at the signals too deeply, and the weakest signals aremissed. SETI programs could never afford the type of computer power need toanalyze both the strongest and weakest signals, so the SETI team came up withthe idea to let individuals at home help them out. The SETI @home project simplyuses a small screen saver program that has the ability to download bits ofinformation from the SETI @home web site and can analyze that date and reportthe data back. (Hipschma, “The Problem”).

However, a small glitch has beenfound in this process. Volunteers who are downloading and analyzing theinformation are wasting CPU cycles by processing data that has already beenscanned. The SETI @home team regrettably announced that due to the overwhelmingresponse by volunteers, the lack of storage space and manpower, they areprocessing the same 115 blocks of information from a two-day period in January. Truly sincere and apologetic, the team plans to release new data to the publicby May 24th. (Kahney, “A Search”).

For decades, radio astronomers have beenhunting for signals from alien civilizations. In an interview with Peter Ward,Donald Brownlee, authors of the new book “Rare Earth,” the two scientistsargue that the emergence of higher life forms would be exceedingly rare. Inorder for life to exist many unusual happenings would have to occur for complexlife to exist. Ward presents a lot of factors in his book, that would lead us tobelieve that earthlings” are the only complex civilization.

First, our solarsystem lies in a perfect habitable zone. Anywhere too close to the Milky Waywould have too violent conditions, and too far away would lack the necessarymetals for life. Ward also says Earth lies within a zone of the solar systemwhere liquid water and sufficient energy exists to sustain life. Seth Shostack,an astronomer for SETI, argues against Wards view in the interview. He statesthat humans have only just begun the search, but agrees that many factors mustoccur before complex life can exist.

However, he argues that these conditionswill happen again, and Earth is not so “rare,” as Ward had suggested. Shostack says the signs of intelligent life have not been found, but that shouldnot deter the scientists in their search. He claims, “that it is a bit likesitting in bars if Spain in 1491, arguing whether Christopher Columbus will everfind a new continent. ” He continues by saying that, “You can argue that adinfinitum, and it makes for good conversation. But in the end, you have to buildthe ships to do the experiment. ” Whether for or against the SETI projects, thesearch for life in the universe has become recognized as an interest of thescientific community.

Its title is to search for extraterrestrial life and itspurpose is to search for planets in other solar systems and their ability toshelter life. Unfortunately, the funds for research are often based on the basisof their scientific research and the results obtained, making it hard to come toa proper conclusion. While many may have developed their own opinions, thescientists are the majorities that disagree about life on Earth and on otherplanets. However it is the difference of opinions that make the topic the searchfor extraterrestrial intelligence interesting.

Scientists may reason that theextraterrestrials do no exist based on his/her research and hypotheses. Thesearch for radio waves is a prime example because we cannot guarantee success offinding any signals from outer space, especially if we do not know if they areeven using radio signals. (Jakosky 171-172). Until we actually find atransmitted radio wave from the outer universe, we can only come to our ownbasic conclusions on what we believe.

Some may agree that intelligent lifeexists among the stars, and others may disagree, claiming we are the onlyintelligent life form. Everyone is open to his or her own opinion! Despite whatmany critics of the SETI projects claim, many believe that the program mustcontinue. They believe that at any moment a signal could be detected. If we havebeen “listening” that long, why should we stop now? The investment ofmanpower and computer technology has been greatly improved in order toaccommodate such research.

They believe that since SETI is a program that hasalready been internationally established and together SETI is allowing humanityto embrace technology to be able to communicate with other worlds. Researchersand supporters of SETI also agree that the discovery of a signal would haveimportant meaning in the assumptions about our place as humans in the universe (Heidmann220). Whether we are alone, or whether we have company among us in the universe,is a mind-boggling question that still remains to be left unanswered. Throughresearch and scientific study, we one day may be able to determine the answer. Or perhaps we will never know.

It is the fear of the unknown that drives many ofthe researches onward into the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence, andhopefully one day, all this hard work will pay off!Bibliography1. Heidmann, Jean. Extraterrestrial Intelligence. New York: CambridgeUniversity Press, 1992. 2. Jakosky, Bruce.

The Search for Life on Other Planets. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. 3. Kahney, Leander. “A Search forIntelligent Searchers.

” Wired News (1999). 29 January 2000 *http://www. nitehawk. com/rasmit/*.

4. Hipschma, Ron. ” The Problem Mountains of Data. ” How SETI @Home Works(1999).

29 January 2000 http://www. nitehawk. com/rasmit/. 5.

“Project Omar. “SETI Institute. 1999. SETI Institute.

28 January 2000 http://www. seti. org/science/ozma. html. 6. “History of SETI.

” SETI Institute. 1999. SETI Institute. 29 January 2000http://www. seti. org/general/history.

html. 7. “The Optical SETI Resource forPlanet Earth. ” The Columbus Optical SETI Observatory.

1999. ColumbusObservatory. 27 January 2000 http://www. coseti.

org/. 8. Ward, Peter. Interviewwith Lori Stokes. The Debate Over Life Beyond Earth.

MSNBC. 10 Feb. 2000.

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SETI Program Essay
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Bertrand Russell wrote, "There are two possibilities. Maybe we are alone.Maybe we are not. Both are equally frightening (Jakosky 1). " The question oflife in the universe is one that leaves many in a state of bewilderment. Itbecomes even more interesting when it leads to another question that ofintelligent life in the universe. Finding other intelligent civilizations amongthe interstellar space would greatly affect every aspect of our existence.Conversely, not finding such a
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SETI Program Essay
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