Science

Are we alone? Join SETI Live to help answer that question …

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

Are we alone? It’s a question with which we are all familiar. Jill Tarter says she started asking it “as a little girl, walking along the deserted and dark beaches of Manasota Key, Florida, holding on to my father’s hand.” She went on to advanced studies in engineering, physics and astrophysics, to pursue a career searching for intelligent life beyond Earth. But even those of us who haven’t chosen this search as our life’s work may have an urge to be part of the discovery. SETI Live! is a chance to join in.

As Jill Tarter writes, “[SETI Live!] is an experiment to see whether an army of citizen scientists, working with data streaming from the Allen Telescope Array, can recognize, remember and classify patterns, often multiple patterns, well enough to see if there is anything that could be an ET signal requiring immediate follow-up. We don’t know whether it will work. At a minimum, we may learn enough about how humans try to work through the complex mixture of detected signals so that we can teach SonATA (the SETI computer system at the telescope array) how to do the job in the future. Or we may conclude that these bands of data must remain unusable, but — having solved the technical problems of allowing citizen scientists to work in real time — we may have set the stage for yet other, unrelated applications. We may come to understand that, with clever scheduling, we can observe some of these frequency bands when the sources of interfering signals aren’t in the sky. And of course, we may find what we are looking for — we may find a signal from a distant technology that we would otherwise have overlooked.”

To celebrate the launch of SETI Live!, the cable channel Science has organized a month of programming called “Are We Alone? Month.” As part of this ongoing programming, tonight at 10pm EDT, experts including Nick Sagan and Jill Tarter come together to explore how alien life might communicate with Earth in the debut of “Alien Encounters.” SCIENCE concludes this month of all-new programming by presenting firsthand accounts from NASA astronauts who witnessed the mysterious with “NASA’s Unexplained Files” on Tuesday, March 27, at 10pm EDT.