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The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

SETI, or the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, is the scientific search for signals, primarily radio signals, from outer space. It is based on the belief that we will hear extraterrestrials before we see. The organization’s work has been going on ever since the 1960’s. The main tools the scientists/searchers use are radio telescopes and listening equipment. To understand this organization, one must first look at its rocky history, and its unique discoveries.

The Beginning of SETI is relatively simple, in 1959 Guiseppi Cocconi and Philip Maorroson published an article in the British Science Journal Nature in which they pointed out it would in principle be possible for civilizations to communicate across space using radio waves. This theory brings two possibilities, one that we might be able to listen in on another civilization and that they might be attempting to communicate with us as well. On April 8th, 1960, Frank Drake, now the President of the SETI Institute, launched the first SETI search, called Project Ozma. Drake had a job at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, in Green Bank, West Virginia, which had recently purchased an eighty-five foot radio signal receiver. This isn’t quite as nice as a radio telescope, but it was the limit of the technology in the sixties. Drake and his students heard a signal from a nearby star, but it soon quieted. The surprised group heard the signal again a week later. Unfortunately, they soon found out it was the noise from airplanes flying overhead. This put a slight damper on the SETI movement, though it didn’t stop it. SETI was continued by independent and amateur scientists who owned or had access to advanced telescopes. NASA took over the project in the mid seventies. This move brought ridicule from many people. SETI was thought to be a waste of NASA’s money and time. In 1981, Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire cut NASA’s funding of SETI for a year, but luckily it was renewed the following year. Throughout the later 1980’s, SETI’s most ambitious research started. They launched their final result project in 1992. It was called the High Resolution Microwave Survey. The search included using the 1,000-foot wide Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico to listen closely to the 1,000 nearest stars and sweeping the entire sky with random telescopes around the globe. Soon after this project was started, SETI...

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