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Optical SETI

Are We Alone? We built the world's first OSETI Telescope dedicated to finding out.

Whatever form an alien signal might take -- the faintest radio transmission, or a split-second pulse of light -- The Planetary Society is committed to discovering it. You can help us keep watch.

In 2006, The Planetary Society unveiled the first All-Sky Optical SETI (OSETI) telescope. Funded by The Planetary Society and operated by a Harvard University team, it's completely dedicated to capturing that one pulse of light that might be a communication. Over the years, our members have helped upgrade and improve the hardware for this program, searching the skies and processing enormous amounts of data.

With its 72-inch primary mirror, the OSETI Telescope is not only the only largest telescope in North America devoted to SETI; it is also the largest optical telescope in the U.S. east of the Mississippi. And, with cutting-edge processors, in just one second, it crunches more data than what is stored in all books in print.

OSETI Telescope Primary MIrror

Paul Horowitz

OSETI Telescope Primary MIrror
Construction of Planetary Society's Optical SETI telelscope in Oak Ridge, Massachusetts. Graduate student Jason Gallicchio is seen here reflected in the 1.8 meter primary mirror.

To date, the Optical SETI Telescope has completed over a thousand sets of observations. It takes 200 clear nights to cover the entire sky once and complete a snapshot. Then it starts again. Although dozens of triggers (pulses) have so far been sighted, all have been ruled out as communications. But vigilance is key: one signal from light-years away could prove we're not alone in the vastness of space -- and alter humanity's view of our place in the universe.

We're keeping close watch -- and making great strides -- but there is much more work to be done. We are in the process of installing amplifier boards to double the sensitivity of the OSETI Telescope. We are also working to completely automate the telescope to capture continuous data every possible minute of every night.

Visible light is thought to be a likely form of interstellar communication because visible light travels easily through space and suffers little interference. A tightly focused light beam, such as a laser, can be 10 times as bright as the Sun and be easily observed from enormous distances. Laser-like light signals are also unidirectional, making it possible to determine their source with great precision, and -- because of their higher frequencies -- can be used to send vast amounts of information.

But in order to receive a light signal from an alien civilization, we must be looking for it. With the Society's dedicated Optical SETI Telescope, our eyes are open.

Since its founding, The Planetary Society has been a leading advocate of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, supporting a wide variety of searches, making use of different approaches. Most of these -- and the largest ones -- have been radio SETI projects such as BETA, SERENDIP, SETI@home, and Southern SETI. Now, after decades of listening, The Planetary Society has turned its eyes to the skies to scan for possible light signals.

We don't know what we'll find. But we do know we'll find nothing if we don't keep searching.

Keep us searching. Donate to our Optical SETI project here >>

Project Updates

Searching for E.T. and the Cure for Cancer:The Planetary Society Helps Trigger a Computing Revolution

Planetary Society members truly have helped pioneer new techniques in the conduct of science. Our initial investment has returned amazing results that will continue to deliver benefits over years to come.

The Planetary Society Optical SETI Telescope Opens

On April 11, 2006, a new era dawned in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) with the dedication and beginning of operations of The Planetary Society Optical SETI Telescope in Harvard, Massachusetts. It is the first devoted optical SETI telescope in the world. The telescope was constructed by Paul Horowitz and his group at Harvard University using funding from Planetary Society members.

Analyzing Signals in Real Time

Candidate signals sent in by users around the world will be quickly analyzed and compared to existing signals.

IBM's World Community Grid: A New SETI@home-Inspired Venture

As SETI@home has demonstrated, untold millions around the world are ready and eager to donate their computer time for the advancement of knowledge and the benefit of humankind. The story of distributed computing is only just beginning.

Scientists from Different Fields Line Up to Join the BOINC Family

BOINC stands for the “Berkeley Online Infrastructure for Network Computing.” Its purpose is to spread the credo of distributed computing beyond SETI@home, by making it easy for researchers in all fields to launch their own projects, and tap into the enormous computing capacity of personal computers around the world.

Multi-Beam Receiver Promises New Vistas for SETI Research

Faster and more regular sky surveys, at an increased sensitivity and broader bandwidth, will push the boundaries of SETI to new and unexplored territories.

Pulses, Triplets, and Gaussians: Rescoring the Reobservations

It has been more than a year since the SETI@home crew spent a hectic week at Arecibo, pointing the giant radio telescope at some of SETI's most promising targets. Much of the data collected during the reobservations has since been repackaged as work units, and sent out to users around the world for analysis.

New and Improved SETI@home will Form the Backbone of Distributed Computing Network

SETI@home and BOINC are gradually converging, and the benefits for both are substantial. While SETI@home enjoys the increased flexibility of the BOINC platform, it brings to BOINC something of inestimable value to a distributed computing project: millions of SETI@home users, willing to use their computers' processing power for the advancement of scientific research.

Analyzing the Reobservations

SETI@home chief scientist Dan Werthimer and his team went back to Arecibo to reobserve the most promising candidate signals detected by the project so far. Unlike most of the year, when SETI@home piggy-backs on the regular operations of the telescope, this time the Werthimer's crew had the full use of the resources of the giant dish.

Reobservations Report No. 8: Beyond the Countdown: SETI@home Makes Plans for the Future

SETI@home's Stellar Countdown has come to an end at the Arecibo Radio Observatory. All in all the Stellar countdown observed 227 promising locations in the sky. Within the next few weeks all the data collected and recorded will be processed by SETI@home users around to world.

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