Massive radio array to look for signals from other civilizations on distant planets

One of the world’s most remarkable radio telescope exhibits is joining the chase after signals from other cosmic civic establishments. The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) of the National Science Foundation, which is located approximately 50 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico, is collecting data that will be analyzed by scientists for the kind of emissions that only artificial transmitters produce—signals that would indicate the existence of a technologically advanced society.

“The VLA is the go-to instrument for radio cosmologists, but this is whenever we first involve it in a boundless and constant quest for technosignatures,” said Andrew Siemion, Bernard M. Oliver Seat for SETI at the SETI Foundation.

The VLA is quite possibly the most useful radio telescope on the planet and comprises 27 receiving wires spread across 23 miles of desert land. It has been working on a project called VLASS (Very Large Array Sky Survey) since 2017, which involves radio reconnaissance of 80% of the sky.

“COSMIC operates commensally, which means it makes use of a copy of the data that astronomers are collecting for other types of research in the background. This is the best and most effective technique to obtain a lot of telescope time for the purpose of looking for uncommon signals.

Paul Demorest, Scientist and Group Lead for VLA/VLBA Science Support at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

However, while these observations are being made, a copy of the data will be sent to a special receiver with channels that are very narrow (about one hertz wide) by tapping the signal distribution network. Specialists expect that any signs from an intentionally built transmitter will contain such tight band parts, and their disclosure would show that the sign isn’t commonly created, however, by an outside transmitter.

The Breakthrough Listen Initiative, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and the SETI Institute are working together to develop the new processing system for SETI, which is called “COSMIC,” which stands for Commensal Open-Source Multimode Interferometer Cluster.

Drs. Savin Varghese and Chenoa Tremblay, researchers with the SETI Institute, at the Very Large Array. Credit: Chenoa Tremblay.

According to Paul Demorest, Scientist and Group Lead for VLA/VLBA Science Support at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Chenoa Tremblay, “COSMIC operates commensally, which means it works in the background using a copy of the data astronomers are taking for other scientific purposes.” This is an excellent and very effective method for utilizing a significant amount of telescope time to search for uncommon signals.”

This new experiment can identify a wide range of transmissions, including pulsed and transient signals, in contrast to many previous SETI observations. There will be approximately ten million star systems examined, and the frequency range that will be monitored is unprecedented.

The COSMIC system has been detecting signals from the Voyager 1 spacecraft since the beginning of 2023 to confirm the operation of the array’s individual antennas and to combine their observations to reveal the spacecraft’s carrier and sideband transmissions. Voyager 1 is the most distant object made by humans, at a distance of approximately 15 billion miles.

the COSMIC instrument on the VLA’s detection of the Voyager I spacecraft. The Voyager I spacecraft, which was launched in 1977, is currently about 14.8 billion miles away from Earth and is the most distant piece of human technology ever sent into space. Explorer’s weak radio transmitter is challenging to identify even with the biggest telescopes and addresses an optimal human “technosignature” for testing the exhibition of SETI instruments. The COSMIC team has high confidence that the system can detect artificial transmitters similar to Voyager’s downlink, which could be from distant extraterrestrial civilizations. Credit: According to Real-Time Radio Systems Ltd. founder Jack Hickish, “The detection of Voyager 1 is an exciting demonstration of the capabilities of the COSMIC system.” ” It is the culmination of an enormous amount of work from an international team of scientists and engineers. “The COSMIC system serves as a testbed for technosignatures research on forthcoming radio telescopes, such as NRAO’s Next Generation VLA,” and it is an excellent illustration of how to use contemporary general-purpose compute hardware to enhance the capabilities of an existing telescope.

COSMIC will be approximately a thousand times more comprehensive than any previous SETI search when combined with the VLA’s exceptional sensitivity. The past demonstrates that significant enhancements in the range and sensitivity of exploratory experiments frequently result in the detection of a signal. If this is the case, this endeavor may result in the discovery of a radio whisper revealing that the Milky Way Galaxy is home to other intelligent beings in addition to us.

“The Public Radio Cosmology Observatory is glad to collaborate with the SETI Foundation in this astonishing drive,” said Tony Beasley, Head of the NRAO. “New significant discoveries can be made through partnerships that bring together private research institutes, world-class research instruments, and individuals who are personally committed to cutting-edge science.

Provided by SETI Institute

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