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. 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 atwww.breakthroughinitiatives.org. Planned observations include:
1. 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
2. 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
3. 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 (www.breakthroughinitiatives.org) 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 (http://seti.berkeley.edu/participate). The University of California, Berkeley, is developing curriculum materials for Breakthrough Listen telescopes, instruments, and data (http://seti.berkeley.edu/listen).
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.
Green Bank Telescope
In October, 1.5 GHz bandwidth digital instrumentation was installed at Green Bank Telescope. The upgrade is estimated to have doubled the previous bandwidth of the Green Bank system. The enhanced system has also doubled the amount of storage space available at the entire Green Bank Observatory.
Lick Observatory’s Automated Planet Finder has begun its robotic observations of nearby stars for laser emissions from potential technological signatures beyond Earth. The telescope has observed 130 stars and all raw data is available on the online archive.
Parkes Radio Telescope
The Parkes Radio Telescope, in Parkes, Australia, famous for its role in down-linking live television transmissions during the Apollo 11 moon landing, will join the Green Bank Telescope and Lick Automated Planet Finder inOctober 2016. Whereas GBT focuses on deep, targeted observations of promising candidates, Parkes will undertake broad searches of large areas of sky. Signal processing hardware for engineering validation tests was deployed at Parkes in February. Limited data has been recorded for testing purposes.
SETI@home has been in operation continuously since 1999, and has attracted millions of participants in that time. Volunteers can sign up to get involved by going to http://seti.berkeley.edu/participate. Users of this free software donate their spare computer processing power to help analyze the vast streams of data gathered by astronomical searches for intelligent life.
The addition of data from Green Bank more than doubles the area of sky currently available to SETI@home volunteers. The commencement of observations at Parkes Observatory in October, will give volunteers access to the entire sky. As Breakthrough Listen dramatically expands the scope of the search, members of the public, even those without technical training, can participate in the excitement as we attempt to answer the question: Are we alone in the Universe?
- 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.
- 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.