SETI Program

Bertrand Russell wrote, "There are two possibilities. Maybe we are alone.

Maybe we are not. Both are equally frightening (Jakosky 1)." The question of
life in the universe is one that leaves many in a state of bewilderment. It
becomes even more interesting when it leads to another question – that of
intelligent life in the universe. Finding other intelligent civilizations among
the interstellar space would greatly affect every aspect of our existence.

Conversely, not finding such a civilization would force us to examine the
purpose of our own existence. To help answer the question, astronomers and
scientists set up a program in search for extraterrestrial intelligence. This
program, or SETI, was set up to verify, by observation that extraterrestrial
life does exist. SETI tries to prove this by picking up and analyzing radio
signals by means of satellites and advanced computers (Heidmann 116). The
history of the SETI program is quite interesting. It started back in 1959 with
the help of two famous Cornell University physicists, Guiseppi Cocconi and Phil

Morrison. Both claimed that it would be possible to communicate with other
potential extraterrestrial life in space by the use of techniques used in radio
astronomy (Heidmann 112). Together, they voiced their belief that if other"alien astronomers" elsewhere in the universe possessed radio telescopes,
that it would be possible to converse between the two (Heidmann 112-113). A
young astronomer by the name of Francis Drake agreed with the theories of

Cocconi and Morrison. He proposed building a radio receiver in order to listen
for waves of sound being transmitted through space. It wasn’t until the spring
of 1960 that Drake began his first project of SETI, Ozma. In this project, he
was the first to conduct a search for signals transmitted from other solar
systems. For two tedious months, Drake pointed an eighty-five foot antenna in
the direction of two starts the same age as our sun, Tau Ceti and Epsil. A
single 100Hz-channel receiver scanned nearly 400kHz of bandwidth, for a repeated
series of patterned pulses that would indicate an intelligent message (Heidmann

113-144). Unfortunately, the only sound that came from the speaker was static.

Though no intelligent life was found and project Ozma proved to be nothing but a
disappointment, it actually spurred the interest of others who created a
feasible scientific objective ("Project Ozma"). In the 1960’s the Soviet

Union dominated much of the SETI program. However in the 1970’s NASA’s Ames

Research center, located in California began to take over. After nearly a decade
of study and preliminary research, the NASA headquarters fully funded and
adopted the SETI program. However, five years later Congress ruled the program a
foolish unnecessary scientific endeavor that wasted valuable funding. Congress
then decided to not allow NASA to support SETI and terminated the funding
("History of SETI"). Despite the obstacle, the SETI program was reborn,
forming the SETI Institute. It’s first privately funded project, Project

Phoenix, is the world’s most sensitive and comprehensive search for
extraterrestrial intelligence that listens to radio signals being transmitted
our way. The project focuses on Northern Stars by scanning only those that are
sun-like and are more capable of supporting life (Heidmann 146). The Phoenix

Project is only one of the many projects run for the search of extraterrestrial
intelligence, but is one of the most important. Another highly significant
project in the search for other life would be the project run by the Columbus

Optical SETI Observatory, or COSETI. This project was formed to promote the
optical search for extraterrestrial intelligence. In other words, it seeks to
detect pulsed and continuous wave laser beacon signals in the visible and
infrared spectrums. Until 1998 however, little, or nothing was ever said to
indicate that there might possibly be a sensible optical approach to SETI. Many
researchers believe that extraterrestrials, if they exist, are so sophisticated
that they would use lasers for their communications rather than radio waves. It
is said that by the year 2005 that most SETI activities will be of the optical
kind and that the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) could also be retrofitted for

COSETI. ("The Optical"). One of the more recent projects that we are faced
with today is the SETI@ Home Project. This project allows the general public to
get involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence by allowing them to
use their home computers to search for signs of radio signals being transmitted
to Earth from space (Kahney, "A Search"). Supposedly, anyone is able to
participate by running a free program that downloads and analyzes radio
telescope data. The philosophy behind this is that the majority of the