Space Technology For Space-based Extraterrestrial Research And Discovery – One day in the spring of 2018, astrophysics professor Jason Wright gave his students an order. This type of research is usually reserved for Ph.D. dissertations, the culmination of years of work and turmoil. But Wright asked students in one of his classes at Pennsylvania State University, the first SETI graduate program, to do such work because it seemed possible; scientists still have a lot of low-hanging (but juicy) fruit to pick. Although SETI has been around for nearly 60 years, it is still a small and immature field of science, with research mostly outside the ivory tower. Penn State would like to change both of those things.
This initial course was a pilot, but it is now in the school’s official course catalog and is the university’s first small step toward reviving SETI research. A giant leap would be the creation of Penn State’s Center for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or PSETI; a formal academic center dedicated to funding research, holding conferences, teaching students, and educating the next (and the next and the next) generations of scholars. search for space aliens. If all goes well, Wright plans to present PSETI at the first Pennsylvania State SETI Symposium in July.
Space Technology For Space-based Extraterrestrial Research And Discovery
At the helm of this yet-to-be-built ship is Wright, an amiable, resourceful guy who until recently has mostly studied exoplanets, not signs of their possible existence. His journey into SETI research was an accident, a collision between the past and the present that, like any collision, pushed him in a new direction. In 2012, he attended a talk by Michael Cushing of the University of Toledo about Y-dwarfs, small star-like spheres that are sometimes cooler than the human body. They were hiding in data from the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). “He found one or two room-temperature objects in space,” says Wright, still amazed.
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The relative coldness of the objects took Wright’s mind back to his undergraduate days, when an adviser suggested he search for Dyson spheres, hypothetical alien engineering designs that take energy from stars and radiate heat, using data from a survey called 2MASA. Wright did not complete the project because 2MASS could only take Dyson fever balls, which are unrealistically hot. In fact, the structures, if they exist, are likely to be closer to room temperature than the Y dwarf realized by Wright at the 2012 colloquium; like what WISE could see. “This is it!” he thought, “This is a database!” Together with University of Pennsylvania astronomer Stan Sigurdsson, he created a project called G-HAT, or Radiant Heat of Extraterrestrial Technology. Both scoured WISE data for signs of life.
They didn’t, but as Wright searched, another thought occurred to him
Appear in visible light telescopes, when they pass in front of their stars they block the starlight. One day, while he was working on this hypothetical idea, an astronomer named Tabetha Boyajian visited his office. In his hands was some strange data about a star that periodically dimmed by more than 20 percent, as if
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A big ball passed between us and him, like a Dyson ball. Wright fatally mentioned the idea to a reporter
. As alien titles often do, this one went viral. And suddenly a guy who had just done a little research on SETI became famous or infamous for it.
Soon, when reporters needed comment on their “I’m Not Saying It’s Aliens” articles, they turned to Wright. He decided to take that glory, aesthetically and academically, and make it easy for others. Wright realized that SETI’s obstacles were right at the starting line. Since the 1990s, the money has largely not come from federal sources like NASA, which astronomers typically depend on. There are no educational programs. Only seven people have ever earned a doctorate in SETI research. And then there’s the part where people call it stupid, wasteful, promotional and out of place in the hallways of any university. So when former SETI Institute board chairman John Goertz floated the idea of an academic center that would essentially say goodbye to all those problems, Wright bit down and kept chewing. This idea eventually became PSETI.
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Today, PSETI boasts advisors such as Natalie Battaglia, a former Kepler mission scientist, and Oleksandr Wolshan, the discoverer of the first exoplanets. Together, they hope to make SETI a full-fledged academic field. Astronomer Jill Tarter, who has devoted her career to SETI but has mostly worked independently outside of universities and funding agencies, is excited about what the center could mean for research. “We need to make SETI a legitimate academic pursuit,” he says. And it will complement other subjects as well. “It’s a great way to teach more traditional science, technology and math topics than horn.”
First on PSETI’s to-do list is to find out what important research scientists have already done. “That’s part of what academia does,” Wright says. “It articulates disciplines and creates a works-cited canon and common knowledge that can be drawn upon. And that’s what SETI is missing.” While there are several good overview articles on radio SETI, few articles bring the entire spectrum together. “There were all these hidden gems,” he adds, “all these papers I stumbled upon that nobody was citing.” Thus, scientists study the same ideas over and over again without realizing it.
As a preliminary solution, first-year graduate student Alan Reyes created a comprehensive library of SETI studies as his final project. Other participants in this course used other approaches. William P. Bowman and Caleb Cañas created a database of extraterrestrial signal searches to date, which became part of the SETI Institute’s searchable catalog of “technical signatures.” Christian Gilbertson worked with a $100 million SETI project called Breakthrough Listen to make his public Python code actually usable by outsiders. And Sophie Sheik has devised a way to find engineering signals that are distorted by motion around their stars without knowing much about that motion.
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Sheikh plans to defend his doctoral thesis. work on SETI as a member of PSETI. However, the center is still not there. it is awaiting approval from the university’s vice president for research. Douglas Cavener, dean of the Eberle College of Science in Pennsylvania and a proponent of PSETI, is confident that confirmation will come. “The president is already in our consultative council, even though we don’t have a center,” he says. And wealthy donors have pledged about $3.5 million from their wealth to the center’s foundation. PSETI money will support Penn State scientists and their projects, the employment of external researchers, the symposium, faculty positions and student salaries. The initiative aims to bring SETI to agencies such as NASA and the National Science Foundation in other subfields; a stable, supportive partner. This is especially important for a compelling long-term enterprise such as lifelong space exploration. “We’re really committed to the long term,” Cavener says.
No one knows what the future holds, what discoveries will be made, what innovations will be developed, what signals will be decoded. But even if astronomers do make contact with an extraterrestrial world one day, Wright believes PSETI will still be useful. The meaning of the SETI acronym will simply change. “The S will change from just ‘search’ to ‘exploration,'” he says.
Discover the science that is changing the world. Explore our digital archive dating back to 1845, including the papers of over 150 Nobel Prize winners. Former NASA administrator Ames talks about how the emergence of new activities and new players in the exploration and use of space creates new challenges and concerns for protecting the planet.
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A deadly alien microbe ascends to Earth on a crashed military satellite, and scientists must try to contain it. Although the plot is fictional, it explores a very real and long-standing problem shared by NASA and the governments of the world: space humans or our robotic emissaries could inadvertently contaminate Earth with alien life or biocontaminate other planets we visit.
It’s an old fear that has taken on new relevance in the age of COVID-19, says Scott Hubbard, an adjunct professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University.
“I’ve heard from some of my colleagues in human spaceflight that they see how, in the current climate, the general public might be more concerned about the return of some alien microbe or virus or contamination,” said Hubbard, who is also a former NASA Ames director and the first director of the Mars program.
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Hubbard co-authored a new report released last month by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that examines recent findings and recommendations regarding “planetary defense” or “planetary quarantine,” protecting Earth and other worlds from biological impact. cross contamination.
Here, Hubbard discusses the long history of protecting the planet, the dilemma Elon Musk faced when sending the Tesla Roadster into space, and safeguards for protection.
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