It was a project that launched a thousand dreams among the stars.
Fifty years ago, NASA published a fat 253-page book called “Project Cyclops.” He summarized the results of a NASA workshop on how to discover alien civilizations. The assembled group of astronomers, engineers and biologists concluded that what was needed were Cyclops, a wide array of radio telescopes with up to a thousand antennas 100 meters in diameter. At the time, the project would have cost $10 billion. Astronomers said it could detect strange signals from as far away as 1,000 light-years away.
The report began with a quote from astronomer frank drakenow Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz:
At this very moment, with almost certain certainty, radio waves sent by other intelligent civilizations are falling on Earth. A telescope can be built that can be pointed at the right place and tuned to the correct frequency to detect these waves. Someday, from somewhere among the stars, answers will come to many of the oldest, most important and exciting questions that mankind has asked.
Cyclops report, out of print for a long time But it is available onlineIt would become the bible for a generation of astronomers drawn to the dream that science could answer existential questions.
Jill Tarter, who read the report when she was a graduate student and devoted her life to searching for extraterrestrial intelligence, “For the first time, we had technology that enables us to do an experiment instead of asking priests and philosophers,” he said in An interview a decade ago.
Cyclops and the work that inspired me this week was reminded of when Word flashed all over the world that Chinese astronomers had discovered a radio signal that had the characteristics of being from an extraterrestrial civilization—that is, it had an extremely narrow bandwidth of 140,604MHz, a precise nature that it would not normally achieve on its own.
They made the discovery with a giant new telescope called the Five Hundred Meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, or FAST. The telescope was pointed at an exoplanet called Kepler 438 b, a rocky planet about 1.5 times the size of Earth and orbiting the so-called habitable zone Kepler 438, a red dwarf star hundreds of light years from here, in the constellation Lyra. Its surface temperature is estimated to be 37 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a candidate for harboring life.
Just as quickly, an article in the state-run Science and Technology Daily about the discovery vanished. Chinese astronomers pour cold water on the result.
Zhang Tongjie, chief scientist at ET . China Civilization Research Group, was quoted as saying by the newspaper Andrew Jones, journalist Who tracks Chinese developments in space and astronomy, said: “The possibility that the suspicious signal is a type of radio interference is also very high, and needs further confirmation or exclusion. This may be a long process.”
“These signals are from radio interference; they are due to radio pollution from Earthlings, not ET,” he wrote in an email.
This has become a familiar story. For half a century, SETI, or the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, has been a whack-a-mole, finding promising signals before tracking them down to orbiting satellites, microwave ovens, and other terrestrial sources. Drake himself pointed a radio telescope at a pair of stars in 1960 and soon thought they had struck gold, only to discover that the signal was stray radar.
Recently, a signal that appears to be coming from the direction of the nearest starburst, Proxima Centauri, has been tracked to Radio interference in Australia.
Just like NASA announced last week that it will make a modest investment in Scientific study of unidentified flying objects The intent was to bring about the accuracy and practicality of what many criticized as security thinking, and so was the agency’s Cyclops workshop that took place at Stanford over a three-month period in 1971. The conference was organized by John Bellingham, an astrobiologist, and Bernard Oliver, who was head of research. Hewlett-Packard Corporation. The men also edited the conference report.
In the introduction, Dr. Oliver wrote that if anything happened to Cyclops, this year would be considered the most important year of his life.
Said Paul Horowitz, a professor emeritus of physics at Harvard University who has continued to design and start his own listening campaign called Project META funded by the Planetary Society. Film director Steven Spielberg (“ET” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) attended the 1985 official opening at the Harvard-Smithsonian Agencies Station in Harvard, Massachusetts.
“SETI was real!” Dr. Horowitz added.
But what Dr. Oliver initially received was just a “Golden Fleece” award from Senator William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, who campaigned against what he saw as a waste of government.
“In my view, this project should be delayed by a few million light-years,” He said.
On Columbus Day 1992, NASA actually began a limited search. A year later, Congress repealed it at the request of Senator Richard Bryan, Democrat of Nevada. After denying federal support since, the SETI endeavor, backed by donations to a nonprofit organization, the SETI Institute, in Mountain View, California, has slowed. Recently, with a $100 million grant, Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner created a new effort called Hacking Listen. Dr. Horowitz and others have expanded the search to include what they call an “optical SETI,” where they monitor the sky for laser flashes from distant civilizations.
Dr. Horowitz said that Cyclops was never built, which it also happens, “because, by today’s standards, it would have been a huge, expensive beast.” Technological advances such as radio receivers that can listen to billions of radio frequencies simultaneously have changed the game.
New big fast telescope in china, also nicknamed “Sky Eye,” was built in part with SETI in mind. Its antenna occupies a crater in Guizhou in southwest China. The antenna size exceeds that of the famous Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico, which Shamefully collapsed in December 2020.
Now FAST and its observers have gone through their own trials by false alarm. SETI astronomers say there will be more.
Those who endure pray that the great silence, as it is called, not discourage them from there. They say they have always been looking for the long haul.
“The Great Silence is not expected,” Dr. Horowitz said, including because only a fraction of the 200 million stars in the Milky Way have been surveyed. No one has ever said that detecting this rain of space radio signals would be easy.
“It may not happen in my life, but it will,” Dr. Werttimer said.
“All of the signals that SETI researchers have discovered so far are made by our own civilization, not another,” Dr. Wertheimer said in a series of emails and phone conversations. He said the earthlings might have to build telescope on the moon To escape the increasing radioactive contamination on Earth and Interference of the constellations of satellites in orbit.
He said the current time may be a unique window to follow SETI from Earth.
“A hundred years ago,” he said, “the sky was clear, but we didn’t know what to do.” “A hundred years from now, there will be no heaven left.”
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