Semi-Formal Meeting of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)

Thursday, October 5, 2000, 14:00 PM

Museu de Astronomia e Ciências Afins (MAST/MCT)
Rua General Bruce, 606, São Cristóvão
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Coordinators: Mauro J. Cavalcanti (Brazil) - Carol A. Oliver (Australia)

On the Potential Contributions of Evolutionary Biology to SETI

Mauro J. Cavalcanti

The proponents of SETI have been almost exclusively physical scientists, and many evolutionary biologists have been very skeptical of the arguments for the existence of extraterrestial civilizations. However, I believe that the biological sciences in general and evolutionary biology in particular can provide significant contributions to SETI, and that the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life and intelligence should start with a sound knowledge of the evolution and diversity of life here on Earth. It is time for evolutionary biologists to adopt a more positive and proactive attitude towards Exobiology and SETI. On the basis of current knowledge of evolutionary patterns and processes, it is possible to argue that many lifeforms and behaviours are recurrent, and that we can even make certain predictions about life on other planets. Other potential opportunities for evolutionary biology contributions to SETI range from understanding the origin and planetary distribution of intelligence and the evolution of animal communication systems to forecasting the human response to active contact with extraterrestrial life, based on analogues drawn from contemporary studies of the impact of exotic and transgenic organisms into the environment. The development of "piggyback" projects that cover standard evolutionary biology issues but at the same time yield valuable insights for SETI is proposed as a cost-effective strategy for increasing the involvement of evolutionary biologists in SETI research.

Mauro J. Cavalcanti earned degrees in biology and information science from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. His long-term research interests include evolutionary morphology, paleobiology, complex systems, and invasion ecology. He has also been active in the fields of scientific computing, information processing and management, and the World-Wide Web, and has published scientific and technical papers on biological morphometrics and taxonomic computing. Currently, he is an associate researcher with Setor de Paleovertebrados, Departamento de Geologia and Paleontologia, Museu Nacional/UFRJ. He is also a member of the Invitation to ETI project coordinated by Allen Tough and a participant of the SETI@home project.

A Strategy for SETI in Brasil

Oscar Toshiaki Matsuura

The very few SETI efforts in Brasil should be only credited to individual and unofficial enthusiasts. Definitely SETI in Brasil is a research field avoided by the academic and scientific institutions, more for cultural than for financial or technical reason. Even these few efforts are severely impaired by the cultural preconceptions discrediting Exobiology. In the root of such preconceptions are the unawareness of the true SETI foundations and the confusion with a kind of UFOlogy widespread but poorly substantiated. My proposal is to focus our few efforts to gain credibility for SETI by affirmative means, avoiding all kind of direct confrontation, but developing well planned interdisciplinary researches on carefully chosen topics so as to be able to contribute to SETI discussions at international level. In parallel, taking advantage of the electronic communication, a precise picture of the opinion held about SETI by astronomers, physicists, biologists, teachers, writers, laymen etc could be surveyed. This survey may help us in tuning up our future strategy. A simple but effective organization gathering the participants and coordinating their actions seems to be necessary, and the comments and suggestions from experienced people will be much welcome.

Oscar Toshiaki Matsuura earned a Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy and Physics and a Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the Universidade de São Paulo. His achievements include doing researches on solar radioastronomy at University Mackenzie, São Paulo, being a Visiting Lecturer at the Department of Astro-Geophysics of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and leading the Group on Solar System Astrophysics from the Department of Astronomy at Universidade de São Paulo from 1972 to 1997. His research activities concentrated on the study of comets, the solar corona and cosmical magnetohydrodynamics. Upon retiring as Associate Professor at Universidade de São Paulo in 1997, he joined the Museu de Astronomia e Ciências Afins (MAST/MCT) at Rio de Janeiro, where he has conducted research on Brazilian History of Astronomy and works related to teaching and divulgation of Astronomy.

The Reaction to a SETI Success

Seth Shostak

New developments in the technology used for SETI suggest that a signal detection could occur within two decades' time. If so, what would be humanity's reaction? Many believe that news of the detection of extraterrestrials would be either covered up or misrepresented. In this short presentation, we discuss the actual reaction to suspected signal detections, as well as the likely long-term consequences of learning that we are not alone in the galaxy.

Seth Shostak is the Public Programs Scientist at the SETI Institute, in Mountain View, California. He has an undergraduate degree from Princeton University, and a doctorate in astronomy from the California Institute of Technology. For much of his career, he conducted radio astronomy research on galaxies, and has published approximately fifty papers in professional journals, and several hundred popular articles. He is author of the book Sharing the Universe: Perspectives on Extraterrestrial Life.

The Role of Amateur Radio Astronomers in Credible SETI Research

H. Paul Shuch

Since cancellation of the NASA SETI program in 1993, several organizations have emerged to help privatize the search for intelligently generated electromagnetic emissions from space. One of these SETI privatization organizations, the grass-roots SETI League, has tapped a resource never exploited by NASA - the world's microwave radio experimenters -- to implement an organized global search for our cosmic companions. This talk introduces The SETI League's Project Argus, an all-sky survey which seeks to scan the entire sky, in all directions, over a limited range of frequencies deemed good candidates for ETI contact. It's low-cost radio telescopes, built and operated by our individual volunteers at their own expense, achieve sensitivities on a par with the best professional facilities of two decades ago -- and as technology continues to advance, that gap is narrowing.

H. Paul Shuch, Executive Director of the SETI League, Inc., is the aerospace engineer credited with designing the world's first commercial home satellite TV receiver, and now directs his microwave circuit expertise toward the design of low-cost radio telescopes. A retired Electronics Engineering professor with a Ph.D. in Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, he has for the past five years headed up the membership-supported, nonprofit SETI League. He is the author of over 250 publications, and speaks frequently on SETI topics to diverse audiences around the world. He is a Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society, acted as a program evaluator for the American Council on Education, has been an advisor to the National Science Foundation, and is a fellowship interviewer for the Hertz Foundation. His honors include a Hertz Foundation Fellowship, the Hertz Foundation Doctoral Thesis Prize, the Robert Horonjeff Memorial Grant, the John T. Chambers Memorial Award, the American Radio Relay League Technical Achievement Award, the Dayton Hamvention Technical Excellence Award, and the Safety Achievement Award of the Experimental Aircraft Association. He recently received a NASA grant, administered by the American Astronomical Association, to design and build a lunar-reflective SETI calibration beacon.

SETI 2020: A Roadmap for Future SETI Observing Projects

Jill C. Tarter

A recent series of workshops has laid out a roadmap for SETI research for the next few decades. Three different approaches were identified. 1) Continue the radio search; build an affordable array from consumer market components, expand the search in frequency, and increase the target list to 100,000 stars. This array will serve as a technology demonstration and enable the international radio astronomy community to realize an array that is a hundred times larger and capable (among other things) of searching a million stars. 2) Begin searches for very fast optical and infrared pulses from a million stars. 3) As Moore's Law delivers increased computational capacity, build an omni-directional sky survey array capable of detecting strong, transient, radio signals from billions of stars. SETI could succeed tomorrow, or it may be an endeavor for multiple generations. We are, after all, a very young technology in a very old galaxy. While our own leakage radiation continues to outshine the Sun at many frequencies, we remain detectable to others. When our use of the spectrum becomes more efficient, it will be time to consider deliberate transmissions and the really tough questions: Who will speak for Earth? What will they say? Maybe by then we will be old enough to find some answers.

Jill C. Tarter holds the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI and is Director for SETI Research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. Tarter received her Bachelor of Engineering Physics Degree with Distinction from Cornell University and her Master's Degree and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley. She served as Project Scientist for NASA's SETI program, the High Resolution Microwave Survey (HRMS), and has conducted numerous observational programs at radio observatories worldwide. She has published scores of technical articles, has been elected to many professional societies, and has served on a number of scientific advisory committees. Tarter's work has brought her wide recognition in the scientific community, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from Women in Aerospace, two Public Service Medals from NASA, Chabot Observatory's Person of the Year award (1997), and a Women of Achievement Award in the Science and Technology category by the Women's Fund and the San Jose Mercury News (1998).

SETI@home and The Search for Extraterrestrial Civilizations

Dan Werthimer

I will discuss the rationale behind the search for radio signals from other civilizations and present the SETI@home search at the world's largest radio telescope. I will also discuss the Serendip SETI project and the search for laser signals (optical SETI). The SETI@home project uses desktop computers from more than two million volunteers in 226 countries. Participants download a screen-saver program from the Web, and data from the Arecibo radio telescope is distributed via the internet to this program. The program analyzes the data, searching for narrow-band continuous and pulsed signals. SETI@home participants have contributed 400,000 years of computer time so far and have formed Earth's most powerful supercomputer. Users have the small but captivating possibility that their computer will detect the first signal from a civilization beyond Earth.

Dan Werthimer is director of the Serendip SETI program and chief scientist of SETI@home at the University of California, Berkeley. He was associate professor in the engineering and physics departments of San Francisco State University and has been a visiting professor at Beijing Normal University, the University of St. Charles in Marseille, Eotvos University in Budapest, and taught at universities in Peru, Egypt, Ghana, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Kenya. He has published numerous scientific papers in the fields of SETI, radio astronomy, instrumentation and science education, and is editor of the book Astronomical and Biochemical Origins and the Search for Life in the Universe.