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Forum:Free Space
Topic:Milner, Hawking Breakthrough Initiatives (SETI)
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The first of two initiatives announced today, Breakthrough Listen, will be the most powerful, comprehensive and intensive scientific search ever undertaken for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth. The second, Breakthrough Message, will fund an international competition to generate messages representing humanity and planet Earth, which might one day be sent to other civilizations.

Breakthrough Listen

  • Biggest scientific search ever undertaken for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth.
  • Significant access to two of the world's most powerful telescopes – 100 Meter Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, USA ("Green Bank Telescope") 1 and 64-metre diameter Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia ("Parkes Telescope").
  • 50 times more sensitive than previous programs dedicated to SETI research.
  • Will cover 10 times more of the sky than previous programs.
  • Will scan at least 5 times more of the radio spectrum – and 100 times faster.
  • In tandem with a radio search, Automated Planet Finder Telescope at Lick Observatory in California, USA ("Lick Telescope")2 will undertake world's deepest and broadest search for optical laser transmissions.
  • Initiative will span 10 years.
  • Financial commitment is $100,000,000.
Unprecedented scope

The program will include a survey of the 1,000,000 closest stars to Earth. It will scan the center of our galaxy and the entire galactic plane. Beyond the Milky Way, it will listen for messages from the 100 closest galaxies. The telescopes used are exquisitely sensitive to long-distance signals, even of low or moderate power:

  • If a civilization based around one of the 1,000 nearest stars transmits to us with the power of common aircraft radar, Breakthrough Listen telescopes could detect it.
  • If a civilization transmits from the center of the Milky Way, with any more than 12 times the output of interplanetary radars we use to probe the Solar System, Breakthrough Listen telescopes could detect it.
  • From a nearby star (25 trillion miles away), Breakthrough Listen's optical search could detect a 100-watt laser (energy output of normal household light bulb).
Open Data, Open Source, Open Platform

The program will generate vast amounts of data. All data will be open to the public. This will likely constitute the largest amount of scientific data ever made available to the public. The Breakthrough Listen team will use and develop the most powerful software for sifting and searching this flood of data. All software will be open source. Both the software and the hardware used in the Breakthrough Listen project will be compatible with other telescopes around the world, so that they could join the search for intelligent life. As well as using the Breakthrough Listen software, scientists and members of the public will be able to add to it, developing their own applications to analyze the data.

Crowdsourced processing power

Breakthrough Listen will also be joining and supporting SETI@home, University of California, Berkeley's ground breaking distributed computing platform, with 9 million volunteers around the world donating their spare computing power to search astronomical data for signs of life. Collectively, they constitute one of the largest supercomputers in the world.

Breakthrough Message

  • International competition to create digital messages that represent humanity and planet Earth.
  • The pool of prizes will total $1,000,000.
  • Details on the competition will be announced at a later date.
  • This initiative is not a commitment to send messages. It's a way to learn about the potential languages of interstellar communication and to spur global discussion on the ethical and philosophical issues surrounding communication with intelligent life beyond Earth.
Project Leadership
  • Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, Fellow of Trinity College; Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics, University of Cambridge.
  • Pete Worden, Chairman, Breakthrough Prize Foundation.
  • Frank Drake, Chairman Emeritus, SETI Institute; Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of California, Santa Cruz; Founding Director, National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center; Former Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy, Cornell University.
  • Geoff Marcy, Professor of Astronomy, University of California, Berkeley; Alberts SETI Chair.
  • Ann Druyan, Creative Director of the Interstellar Message, NASA Voyager; Co-Founder and CEO, Cosmos Studios; Emmy and Peabody award winning Writer and Producer.
  • Dan Werthimer, Co-founder and chief scientist of the SETI@home project; director of SERENDIP; principal investigator for CASPER.
  • Andrew Siemion, Director, Berkeley SETI Research Center.
Yuri Milner said: "With Breakthrough Listen, we're committed to bringing the Silicon Valley approach to the search for intelligent life in the Universe. Our approach to data will be open and taking advantage of the problem-solving power of social networks."

Stephen Hawking said: "I strongly support the Breakthrough Initiatives and the search for extraterrestrial life."

Frank Drake said: "Right now there could be messages from the stars flying right through the room, through us all. That still sends a shiver down my spine. The search for intelligent life is a great adventure. And Breakthrough Listen is giving it a huge lift."

"We've learned a lot in the last fifty years about how to look for signals from space. With the Breakthrough Initiatives, the learning curve is likely to bend upward significantly," added Frank Drake.

Ann Druyan said: "The Breakthrough Message competition is designed to spark the imaginations of millions, and to generate conversation about who we really are in the universe and what it is that we wish to share about the nature of being alive on Earth. Even if we don't send a single message, the act of conceptualizing one can be transformative. In creating the Voyager Interstellar Message, we strived to attain a cosmic perspective on our planet, our species and our time. It was intended for two distinct kinds of recipients - the putative extraterrestrials of distant worlds in the remote future and our human contemporaries. As we approach the Message's fortieth anniversary, I am deeply grateful for the chance to collaborate on the Breakthrough Message, for what we might discover together and in the hope that it might inform our outlook and even our conduct on this world."

Robert PearlmanBreakthrough Prize release
$100 Million Breakthrough Listen Initiative Publicly Sharing Data from Unprecedented Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe

'First light' for networked telescopes combing heavens; Vast searches announced for coming months; Open source data available for download on Breakthrough Initiatives website

Breakthrough Listen, the $100 million initiative to find signs of intelligent life in the universe, is releasing initial observational datasets to the world, Breakthrough Initiatives announced today.

January 2016 saw 'first light' for Breakthrough Listen, with observations marking the start of the 10-year effort announced in July 2015 at London's Royal Society by Yuri Milner, Stephen Hawking, Lord Martin Rees, Ann Druyan, and Frank Drake. Hundreds of hours of observations have taken place using the Green Bank Radio Telescope in West Virginia and Lick Observatory's Automated Planet Finder in Mt. Hamilton, California.

Today Breakthrough Listen is releasing the first batch of data for public access at the Breakthrough Initiatives website. Data from the Green Bank Telescope is also available to users of UC Berkeley's SETI@home software.

Observations made so far by Breakthrough Listen include most of the stars within 16 light years of Earth (including stars such as 51 Pegasi that are known to host extra-solar planets), and a sample of stars between 16 and 160 light years away. This included nearby sun-like and giant stars as well as numerous binary stars. The search also targeted around 40 of the nearest spiral galaxies, including members of the Maffei Group in the direction of the constellation Cassiopeia. Stars within 16 light years accessible only from the Southern Hemisphere, such as Alpha Centauri, will be observed by the end of the year with the Parkes Telescope.

This year's Observation Plan for all three telescopes has been published and can be found here. Planned observations include:

Green Bank Radio Telescope
World's deepest searches for artificial signals in five key samples (Northern Hemisphere)

  • All 43 stars within 5 parsecs, at 1-15 GHz. First-ever complete SETI survey within 5 parsecs. Sensitive to "Earth-leakage" levels of radio transmission.
  • 1000 stars of all spectral-types (OBAFGKM). Within 50 parsecs. 1-15 GHz.
  • One Million Nearby Stars. In 2016, first 5,000 stars; 1 minute exposure (1-15 GHz)
  • Centers of 100 nearby galaxies: spirals, ellipticals, dwarfs, irregulars (1-15 GHz)
  • Exotic Stars: 20 White Dwarfs, 20 Neutron stars, 20 black holes
Parkes Radio Telescope
World's deepest searches for artificial signals in six key samples (Southern Hemisphere):
  • All 43 stars (at south declinations) within 5 parsecs, at 1-15 GHz. First-ever complete SETI survey within 5 parsecs. Sensitive to "Earth-leakage" levels of radio transmission.
  • 1000 stars (south) of all spectral-types (OBAFGKM). Within 50 parsecs. (1-4 GHz)
  • One Million Nearby Stars (south). In 2016-2017, first 5,000 stars; 1 minute exposure (1-4 GHz)
  • Galactic plane and Center (1-4 GHz)
  • Centers of 100 nearby galaxies (south declinations): spirals, ellipticals, dwarfs, irregulars (1-4 GHz)
  • Exotica: 20 White Dwarfs, 20 Neutron stars, 20 black holes
Automated Planet Finder: Optical Spectroscopic SETI
The targets will closely match those of the BL Green Bank radio search, with small adjustments due to the APF's much smaller field of view. The targets are:
  • All 43 stars within 5 parsecs accessible to the APF (north of declination -20 deg)
  • 1000 nearby stars of all spectral types, OBAFGKM main sequence and giants
  • 100 nearest galaxies (centers, north of declination = -20deg)
"Breakthrough Listen is officially on the air and scanning the skies for signs of intelligent life," said Milner. "It is a comprehensive effort, made possible by the tremendous scientific and technological advancements we've witnessed since the early days of similar efforts. Now, we join our trailblazing colleagues and ask people worldwide to review our collected data and explore the Universe with us."

"Breakthrough Listen is up and running," said Pete Worden, Executive Director of the Breakthrough Initiatives. "For the first time we will obtain a comprehensive SETI search of our galactic neighborhood. Equally important, the public and experts around the world can obtain the data and help determine if we are alone."

"Breakthrough Listen is a leap forward in our ability to systematically scan the skies for evidence of advanced life beyond Earth," said Andrew Siemion, Director of Berkeley SETI Research Center. "As our processing capabilities continue to grow in the coming months, and we release additional data, the opportunity for discovery will multiply enormously."

Data from the telescopes uploaded to the Breakthrough Initiatives website are indexed by date of recording, object name and other parameters. Scientists and those with computer science skills can analyze raw data from the telescopes and develop their own applications to work with these huge and rich datasets. And anyone with a computer or smartphone can help crunch the Breakthrough Listen data via the SETI@home volunteer computing software. The University of California, Berkeley, is developing curriculum materials for Breakthrough Listen telescopes, instruments, and data.

Breakthrough Listen will obtain data over a 10-year period from a network of the world's most powerful radio and optical telescopes to yield vast, full-sky signal monitoring. It will collect more data in one day than previously had been collected in one year. Search capacity will be 50 times more sensitive, cover 10 times more of the sky, 5 times more of the radio spectrum, and at speeds 100 times faster.
Robert PearlmanBreakthrough Initiatives release
Breakthrough Initiatives and Jodrell Bank Observatory launch new collaboration in search for intelligent life beyond Earth

Breakthrough Listen experiments in US and Australia to coordinate activities with historic UK telescopes

Data sharing will allow rapid follow-up observations of possible signals

Breakthrough Initiatives and The Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at The University of Manchester announced a new partnership to search for evidence of intelligent life beyond Earth.

Breakthrough Listen, the most comprehensive scientific search for intelligent life ever launched, will share information with Jodrell Bank's team, who wish to conduct an independent SETI search via its 76-m radio telescope and e-MERLIN array.

As part of a growing international collaboration of astronomers and observing facilities focused on SETI, the collaboration will openly exchange observing plans, search methods and data, including the rapid sharing of any promising new signal made by either party for additional observation and analysis by the other. The two teams are planning a series of meetings and conferences to refine search strategies, data analyses and results.

At a signing ceremony in Manchester, England, the collaboration was announced via a joint statement by Michael Garrett, Director of The Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, and Pete Klupar, Director of Engineering for the Breakthrough Initiatives.

"Jodrell Bank is a superb observatory with an outstanding track record of astronomical discoveries," said Pete Klupar, Director of Engineering for the Breakthrough Initiatives. "We are proud to be working with them to focus on one of the great unsolved questions in science."

According to Prof. Michael Garrett, "The opportunity to work directly with colleagues involved in Breakthrough Listen is an important step forward in getting the UK back into the SETI business."

Last October, the Breakthrough Initiatives announced a collaboration with the FAST telescope in China. With this latest development, the observatories collaborating on SETI searches now spans four continents.

The Jodrell Bank Center for Astrophysics operates the 76-m Lovell Telescope and the e-MERLIN array. Currently, there are proposals to upgrade the e-MERLIN telescope, expanding its frequency range in order to permit observations of proto-planetary disks and to enable the simultaneous detection and localization of transient sources, including potential SETI signals.

The Breakthrough Initiatives are a set of long-term astronomical programs exploring the Universe, seeking scientific evidence of life beyond Earth, and encouraging public debate from a planetary perspective. Breakthrough Listen, launched in July 2015, is the most comprehensive astronomical search for intelligent life ever undertaken. It employs two of the world's biggest radio telescopes: the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, USA, and the Parkes Observatory in New South Wales, Australia; as well as the Automated Planet Finder at Lick Observatory in California, USA, which searches for laser signals.
Robert PearlmanBreakthrough Initiatives release
Breakthrough Listen Detects Repeating Fast Radio Bursts from the Distant Universe

Green Bank Telescope observations of a dwarf galaxy three billion light years away reveal 15 bursts of radio emission. This is the first time bursts from this source have been seen at these frequencies.

Breakthrough Listen – the initiative to find signs of intelligent life in the universe – has detected 15 fast radio bursts emanating from the mysterious "repeater" FRB 121102. Fast radio bursts, or FRBs, are brief, bright pulses of radio emission from distant galaxies. First detected with the Parkes Telescope in Australia, FRBs have now been seen by several radio telescopes around the world. FRB 121102 was discovered in 2012, on November 2nd (hence its name). In 2015, it was the first FRB seen to repeat, ruling out theories of the bursts' origins that involved the catastrophic destruction of the progenitor (at least in this particular instance). And in 2016, the repeater was the first FRB to have its location pinpointed with sufficient precision to allow its host galaxy to be identified. It resides in a dwarf galaxy about 3 billion light years away from Earth.

Attempts to understand the mechanism that generates FRBs have made this galaxy a target of ongoing monitoring campaigns by instruments across the globe. Possible explanations for FRBs range from outbursts from rotating neutron stars with extremely strong magnetic fields, to more speculative ideas that they are directed energy sources used by extraterrestrial civilizations to power spacecraft.

Breakthrough Listen is a global astronomical initiative launched in 2015 by Internet investor and philanthropist Yuri Milner and cosmologist Stephen Hawking.

As part of their program to observe nearby stars and galaxies for signatures of extraterrestrial technology, the Listen science team at UC Berkeley added FRB 121102 to their list of targets. In the early hours of Saturday, August 26, UC Berkeley Postdoctoral Researcher Dr. Vishal Gajjar observed the location of FRB 121102 using the Breakthrough Listen backend instrument at the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. The instrument accumulated 400 TB of data on the object over a five hour observation, observing the entire 4 to 8 GHz frequency band. This large dataset was searched for signatures of short pulses from the source over a broad range of frequencies, with a characteristic dispersion, or delay as a function of frequency, caused by the presence of gas in space between us and the source. The distinctive shape that the dispersion imposes on the initial pulse is an indicator of the amount of material between us and the source, and hence an indicator of the distance to the host galaxy.

Analysis by Dr. Gajjar and the Listen team revealed 15 new pulses from FRB 121102. As well as confirming that the source is in a newly active state, the high resolution of the data obtained by the Listen instrument will allow measurement of the properties of these mysterious bursts at a higher precision than ever possible before.

The observations also show for the first time that FRBs emit at higher frequencies (with the brightest emission occurring at around 7 GHz) than previously observed. The extraordinary capabilities of the Listen backend, which is able to record several gigahertz of bandwidth at a time, split into billions of individual channels, enable a new view of the frequency spectrum of FRBs, and should shed additional light on the processes giving rise to FRB emission.

When the recently-detected pulses left their host galaxy our entire Solar System was just 2 billion years old. Life on Earth consisted of only single-celled organisms, and it would be another billion years before even the simplest multi-cellular life began to evolve.

Whether or not FRBs eventually turn out to be signatures of extraterrestrial technology, Breakthrough Listen is helping to push the frontiers of a new and rapidly growing area of our understanding of the Universe around us.

The new results are reported as an Astronomer's Telegram and will be described in further detail in an upcoming scientific journal article.

Breakthrough Listen is a scientific program in search for evidence of technological life in the Universe. It aims to survey one million nearby stars, the entire galactic plane and 100 nearby galaxies at a wide range of radio and optical bands.

The Breakthrough Initiatives are a suite of scientific and technological programs investigating life in the Universe.
SpaceAholicBreakthrough Listen is to be aligned against 234 candidate stars that host unusual spectra.

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