Press Release

They Beam From Outer Space? The Planetary Society Sponsors a New Optical SETI Telescope

By SpaceRef Editor
January 22, 2001
Filed under ,

If alien civilizations are beaming laser messages across the galaxy, The
Planetary Society is about to increase the odds of finding them when it
opens its new Optical SETI Telescope in Harvard, Massachusetts early in
2002. SETI stands for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Designed to scan the sky for pulsed laser signals, the all-sky Optical SETI
Survey will use a 1.8 meter (72 inch) diameter optical telescope dedicated
exclusively to SETI. When completed, the new telescope will be the largest
in the eastern United States. Professor Paul Horowitz of Harvard University
is the project leader.

“Using only ‘Earth 2001’ technology, we could now generate a beamed laser
pulse that appears 5000 times brighter than our sun, as seen by a distant
civilization in the direction of its slender beam,” said Horowitz. “In
other words, interstellar laser communication is altogether practicable.
The new Optical SETI Telescope will allow us to search the entire northern
sky for such signs of intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy.”

Horowitz and his team have designed and ordered a custom telescope and
broken ground on construction of an observatory in which to house it in
Harvard, Massachusetts.

Once operational, the new optical SETI observatory will search for brief
pulses of light, covering the entire northern sky once every 200 clear
nights. Its special camera will stare at a stripe of sky with an array of
1024 ultrafast detectors, seeking flashes of light as short as a billionth
of a second.

The Planetary Society is funding the project with a $350,000 grant, raised
through contributions from its members. David Brown, a member of the
Society’s New Millennium Committee, is providing half the funds through a
matching gift challenge to Society members.

This project will be the twelfth SETI project sponsored by the Society
since the organization began in 1980. It is the latest in a long history of
Society-supported SETI projects — all with private funds — which include
several radio telescope searches and the internationally popular [email protected]
project. Over 2.6 million [email protected] users have joined the quest for
extraterrestrial intelligence, using their home computers to help process
SETI data.

Professor Horowitz has worked on SETI projects with The Planetary Society
for nearly two decades now. These include BETA, a radio telescope search in
Harvard, Massachusetts; META in Argentina; and a search for laser
communication from 13,000 selected stars.

Searching for narrowband laser pulse SETI signals was first suggested by
Nobel prize winner Charles Townes of the University of California,
Berkeley. Early optical SETI observations were made by Viktor Shvartsman,
Albert Betz, and Stuart Kingsley. The current projects, with their advanced
detectors, were recommended in a study conducted by the SETI Institute,
which is helping to sponsor searches.

-o0o-

CONTACT:

Contact Susan Lendroth at (626)793-5100 ext 214 or by e-mail at
[email protected]

MORE INFORMATION: Visit http://planetary.org and http://www.oseti.org.

THE PLANETARY SOCIETY:

Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded The Planetary Society
in 1980 to advance the exploration of the solar system and to continue the
search for extraterrestrial life. With 100,000 members in over 140
countries, the Society is the largest space interest group in the world.

The Planetary Society

65 N. Catalina Ave.

Pasadena, CA 91106-2301

Tel: (626) 793-5100

Fax: (626) 793-5528

E-Mail: [email protected]

SpaceRef staff editor.