Who Are We?
In 1993 NASA was forced to cease all research into SETI due to a decision made in the US Congress to terminate all funding for the High Resolution Microwave Survey (H.R.M.S.) which had been started in 1991. The HRMS was an officially sanctioned, Government funded search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence ( SETI). The program was to be run by NASA and used some of the largest radio telescopes on the Earth employing the latest technology available, at that time, to listen on selected frequencies for artificially created radio signals from nearby solar type stars. The program had hardly got off the ground when it was cancelled by a vote in Congress to stop such a "flagrant" waste of the tax payers money.
The search goes on today but not by Governments and not with big price tags. In fact Governments seem to have a total lack of interest in providing funds for this type of research. If it were not for the interest of the public, SETI probably would not even exist at all. Sure, we would all like to know if there were other civilizations out there, but we would probably never find out, especially if we were to rely upon our Governments to look for us.
There have been many searches over the past years, mostly operated by volunteers without much funding, and with equipment that was discarded from other projects, modified for SETI capable receiving. These intrepid researchers laboured hard to achieve the fine results of their day and set the ground work that we all use today, not only for SETI, but for Radio Astronomy in general.
In Jan 1997, an article appeared in the New Scientist Magazine about a project that had commenced in 1996 by the US based SETI League. They wanted to establish a large number of small Radio Telescopes scattered all over the earth to listen for those tell tail signals that could be attributed to other civilizations located within two hundred light years (200 lt/yrs) of the Earth. The plan was simple, use many dishes and receivers instead of a few larger Antennas and receivers to achieve the same results, only, at a fraction of the cost of the larger projects currently running. By carving up the sky into grids and allocating these grids to the various radio telescopes all over the Earth it was thought that the project would have a good chance of detecting something that may turn out to be an artificially created signal. A small chance of success, but worth the try.
So in 1996 Project ARGUS was started with a small number of Radio Telescopes located mainly in the USA. Today, Project ARGUS has more than a hundred receivers all over the Earth listening for artificially created radio signals on the Hydrogen Line (1420.405.75mhz). The frequency was selected by the Project Argus Scientist's to listen on, as it is the natural resonant frequency of hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe. If there were other civilizations on other planets, perhaps they would be monitoring on, or transmitting in this range of frequencies as well. These frequencies are used by radio astronomers here on Earth to create maps of hydrogen's distribution in space. Also, the atmosphere of the earth is
relatively transparent to this part of the Microwave Spectrum and the signals can be easily detected from the surface of the earth without the need to place expensive antennas in space or on the moon.
It was due to the New Scientist article that I became interested in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. My name is Noel C. Welstead, and it was at this time that I decided to join the SETI League and build my own Project Argus station here in Brisbane Australia. I started work on it immediately and it was completed a year later ready for trials on the hardware and software systems.
During the first year of work on Australia's first Project Argus station I began to discover that most people I talked to, were interested to hear about what I was doing and why I was doing it. At first I said little about the project, preferring to talk to my family and close friends about what I was up to with "all that equipment". Then, slowly, I began to realize that just about everyone I talked to about SETI wanted to know more. In fact, I found myself talking to increasingly larger groups of people who not only were interested in what I was doing, but wanted to help out. I started to get phone calls from friends of friends all wanting to get involved in some way. These people were not Radio Astronomers or Space Scientists, just ordinary people who shared the same thoughts and wondered if we were truly ALONE in the Universe. Was mankind the only intelligent being in the cosmos, or were there others out there somewhere, that we could one day meet? Could we detect their presence and maybe, someday, establish a two-way path of communication with them? We believe that this is a possibility in our lifetime, the detection of a signal that would tell us that " We Are Not ALONE".
Seti is probably one of the most frustrating endeavours that man will ever attempt. At one extreme you have the whole universe to listen to, and at the other extreme you have a whole spectrum of frequencies to select from. Compounding the issue even further you have the choice of which direction you point your antenna to and, any direction or frequency appears to be as good as any other. So what frequency should we use? Where should we point our antennas and what type of signal should we look for? It seems that there are many stars in our region of the galaxy.
Out to about a distance of 250 light years there are more than 250.000 stars to scan so we have many places to look. A list of these "local" stars has been catalogued and earlier searches have been conducted in these areas with mixed results, mainly from the northern hemisphere. We feel that the Southern Hemisphere is the best place to look. After all, we have more than a hundred times the number of stars in the sky than the Northern Hemisphere, so we already have a distinct advantage.
The Big Question ?
Are we Alone? One thing you can say for sure is if we never do the search, we will never have a chance of finding the answer !!!
This question has been the subject of many scientific papers over the last 30 or so years that SETI has used radio in the quest for signs of other technological civilizations. Many different approaches have been taken, all highly innovative, and all by some of the best minds of our century. The Seti Institute's
Professor FRANK DRAKE even created a formula that tried to estimate how many civilizations there were in our Galaxy. Using the best knowledge of the time from current cosmological theories and Astronomical data, he created the now famous
Drake Equation which has been the only real attempt to try and quantify the possible extent or populations of other civilizations other than ours.
There have even been some tantalizing signals received over the years. The famous WOW signal received in 1972 at the Big Ear radio telescope is perhaps the most famous. Repeated analysis of the data with modern techniques and astronomical knowledge have strengthened the argument that this was indeed an artificially created signal being transmitted from space, coming from the direction of Sagittarius. Even here in Australia there have been some interesting signals received by our own researchers.
Prof. David Blair from the University of Western Australia was heading a team of scientists at the Parkes Radio Observatory in 1991 when they detected an unusual signal emanating from the Constellation Ophiuchus. As usual, the signal was only present for a short time and did not repeat again. Prof. Blair used the " Magic" frequency of the Hydrogen line frequency (1420.405.75 MHz) times (X) Pi, giving a frequency of 4,464.132.mhz. This is as good a frequency as any, but by using two universal constants that would be of significance to a Technological Civilization instead of just using the Hydrogen Line frequency he hoped that he would home in on that " magic frequency". Maybe another civilization thought that this would be a good frequency to transmit on so Dr Blair setup a project at the Parkes Radio Observatory to monitor these channels. During the scan an operator detected a signal that was not a naturally produced emission. The signal lasted long enough to fix the position but repeated attempts to verify it have not been successful.
There is one school of thought that says that we should be signalling to the rest of the
universe that we are here; not just passively listening for someone else to transmit and make the first contact. A project to build and operate a massive antenna and power hungry transmitter would be too cost prohibitive. No Government would be prepared to outlay this amount of resources in the hope that we may attract the attention of E.T. Radio receivers are much cheaper to build than transmitters, so it seems more sensible to listen instead of transmitting. In any case, the Earth has been a shining jewel in the radio spectrum now for about 60 years due to the leakage into space of Television, Radar and Satellite communications. So any civilization within about 60 light years of our solar system would already have detected something from us. Maybe a message is already on it's way for us to detect and start deciphering? The amount of radio noise that is moving out into space from the Earth in an ever expanding shell would betray our presence to any other technological civilization that the equipment and inclination to search their alien sky for signs of other civilizations. Within a
radius of 50~60 light years from our solar system our radio traffic could be detected as faint lines on a
waterfall type display similar to what we use here for our own search.
When another civilization swept the radio spectrum for signals emanating from our star, the sun, they would find signals all across the frequency bands. However, as we do not normally transmit on the so called "protected frequencies" used by radio astronomy, they would realize that these frequencies were for listening to. Yes, that's right, we mostly tune our radio telescopes to wavelength's that are the natural resonant frequency of hydrogen, hydroxyl etc. This we do so we can gauge the distribution of these elements in space from their radio emissions. What an ideal frequency for them to transmit on!! They must realize that these frequencies are the one's we are listening to? So, we listen and hope.........
It is for the above reasons that our small group of
Australian & New Zealand SETI enthusiasts decided to throw their combined weight behind a project that they felt needed to be controlled by a privately run and financed group. In these days of "X-Files", conspiracy theories and the like, we decided that the only way the public could really participate and feel that it was getting the whole story, was for them to actually get involved with a project that they had a say in. Average people helping out with the most important exploration project that mankind has ever conducted.
So, on the 14 th of April 1998 our own SETI project was born. The SETI Research & Community Development Institute Limited came into being on this day. It was created by the core of SETI enthusiast who came together 5 years ago with a common goal, The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence .
The Institute is a Non Profit, Membership supported Organization Devoted to the Electromagnetic Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.
WE INVITE YOU TO JOIN OUR SEARCH. Email us or Write to our snail mail address for more information on how you can help.