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SETI@Berkeley Has Their Ears Tuned to the Stars

June 7, 2021
by Charlie Pike
seti_fp Image source: iStock

And they could use your help.

SETI, or the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, is alive and well at Cal. Researchers at the Berkeley SETI Research Center are collaborating on Breakthrough Listen, the largest ever scientific search for alien communications, using an array of telescopes and observatories to gather artificially generated, electromagnetic signals from across the universe. These signals include microwaves, radio waves, laser signals, and infrared waves, the idea being that extraterrestrial, intelligent life might too be listening to the radio or microwaving their macaroni and cheese. The discovery of such signals would provide powerful evidence for the existence of alien life. Here are some of Berkeley’s eyes and ears observing the vast unknown.

Parkes Radio Telescope

Parkes Radio Telescope // Photo by Amanda Slater

About three-fifths the size of a football field, the 64-meter Parkes telescope resides at the Parkes Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. In operation since 1961, the Parkes telescope detects radio waves that range in length from the micro (seven millimeters) to the macro (four meters). The telescope has discovered upwards of 2,500 new galaxies and plays an important role in Breakthrough Listen’s search for signs of life. Its location on the opposite side of the globe allows Berkeley to scan parts of the sky that were previously out of reach.

Automated Planet Finder

Auto Planet Finder // ABN Images / Alamy Stock Photo

At Lick Observatory on California’s Mt. Hamilton sits the Automated Planet Finder, the first-ever telescope able to identify potentially life-supporting planets in faraway galaxies. Using its world-class spectrograph, which is able to observe the slightest of changes in stellar velocity, the Automated Planet Finder scans nearby stars for artificially made optical laser transmissions. Did somebody say encoded, alien laser messages?

Green Bank Telescope

Green Bank Telescope // Jim West / Alamy Stock Photo

The Green Bank Telescope, located in the mountains of West Virginia, is the biggest steerable dish radio telescope on Earth. And its accuracy is unmatched. The dish can sift through billions of radio channels simultaneously, looking for those artificial signals that would confirm the presence of intelligent life. The dish is also in the National Radio Quiet Zone, which means that if you want to visit, you’ll need to leave your mobile phone at home.


CBS / Photofest

If you are over-the-moon excited about this research, you might consider joining the team. With SETI@home, it’s never been easier. Operating through the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Networked Computing (or BOINC), the SETI@home program turns your laptop into a personal telescope, using its spare processing power to analyze data and search for signals. With some luck, your computer could answer one of humanity’s most intriguing questions: Are we alone in the universe?

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