Today we open a new chapter in the search for cosmic company. We’re expanding our radio search to include new telescopes and expanded capabilities, and we’re also launching a radical new optical search for laser communications from other civilizations. Most excitingly, though, we’re opening up our software, hardware, and data to the public, and we’d like you to help us to make the search faster and more effective. Today, we are making Green Bank Telescope data from Breakthrough Listen available to users of the SETI@home software, who can volunteer the spare processing power of their computers to aid in the analysis. For those with the time, desire, and skills to engage more deeply with the raw data, we're starting to send files from Breakthrough Listen telescopes into our public data archive.
Over the coming months, we’ll be launching a range of activities, competitions, and other initiatives where you can work with us to find new and creative solutions to analyze these unprecedented datasets. We want to harness the power of human creativity and ingenuity across the globe as we ask you to help us answer the question: Are we alone?
Searching the skies
The search for extraterrestrial intelligence began in earnest in the middle of the 20th century, as scientists began to scan the sky with radio antennas. Many natural processes in space emit radio waves, including particles accelerated by enormous magnetic fields near supermassive black holes; exploding stars that send out shockwaves that expand at some 30% of the speed of light; and pulsars - the corpse of a star, compressed to the size of a city, rotating at speeds as fast as 40,000 revolutions per minute. Truly, the Universe as seen by radio telescopes is a mind-boggling place.
So far, however, our searches have uncovered no signs of technology other than our own. Engineered signals ought to stand out from the background of emission from natural processes, betraying the presence of their creators through unique characteristics. But aside from radio chatter from human technology such as our satellites, cellphones, and radar, we’ve made no unambiguous detection of artificial signals in the half century since modern searches for extraterrestrial intelligence began. So what should we conclude? That we are the only beings who have developed radio technology? Or that we have scanned such a small fraction of our Universe that it’s so far impossible to say?
We suspect the answer is the latter. So we’ve started an unprecedented search of a million stars and a hundred nearby galaxies. We’re scanning more of the radio spectrum, one hundred times faster than ever before, and at fifty times better sensitivity. Welcome to Breakthrough Listen.
Much of the focus of searches for extraterrestrial intelligence in the last half century has been to look for transmissions at radio frequencies. But the same techniques that have allowed us to find hundreds of planets around other stars now offer a new possibility to search for signs that these planets may be inhabited.
Might extraterrestrial civilizations be using lasers to communicate, encoding information in a narrow beam of optical light? The extraordinary sensitivity made possible by our cutting-edge optical telescope technology makes it possible for us to look. We’ve begun a survey of hundreds of nearby stars, that’s sensitive enough to detect a 100-watt laser, even from a planet whose light is lost in the glare of its host star.
Help us analyze the data!
To understand more about Breakthrough Listen data formats, analysis, and how we'd like to engage scientists, engineers, big data experts, and students in the search, visit the Breakthrough Listen education section at Berkeley SETI Research Center.