What We Do With Your Classifications

What Data Do You See?

On SETI Live you are looking at ‘live’ data from the telescope.  Every second, SonATA (SETI on the Allen Telescope Array) reports the power measured in individual frequency channels that are 1 Hz wide.  While the SonATA system is dealing with more than 20 million such channels, for each beam on the sky, SETI Live is concentrating on only a few bands of channels that are crowded with signals.

Each waterfall plot displays the power in each of 533 channels horizontally, with each vertical row being a new time sample.  The most recently sampled data is at the top of the plot.  The brightness of the pixels represents how strong the signals are.

There are two or three separate waterfall plots for each observation, because the SonATA system looks at different target planetary systems at the same time.  If a signal is really coming from one of the targets, it should be in only one of the plots – this is the sort of signal that might be from ETI.  If the same signal can be seen in multiple plots, then it is some sort of interference of RFI that is entering into what we call the telescope sidelobes.  Your eyes have peripheral vision, and so does a telescope – that’s what we call sidelobes.  It is hard to distinguish a loud signal in the sidelobes from a weak signal in the telescope beam.  Looking at multiple targets at the same time helps us figure this out.

How Does the Crowd Find ET?

During the initial observations, signals that you identify as being in only one beam, having some non-zero drift rate, and never having been seen before, become interesting candidates to be real ET signals.  So when the current cycle of data acquisition ends, SonATA will retune the telescope’s frequencies and look back at the same target and frequency to try to reacquire that signal again.  But SonATA is still blind to the crowded bands and so you will have to help with this follow up.

If the candidate signal you found was changing frequency over time, SonATA will predict the frequency where it should now be found, and generate waterfall plots for you to observe.  Is the same signal still there?  Is it in any other beam?  If the answer to the first question is yes, and to the second question is no, this candidate remains of interest. Otherwise it will be classified as being due to chance noise, or interference.

A candidate that’s still interesting automatically generates an observation ‘off-source’ in the next data acquisition cycle.  These new data will be presented to you.  Is it still possible to see the signal?  If so, it is coming from somewhere other than the target we were looking at and is therefore interference.  If it isn’t seen ‘off-source’ than the next observing cycle will look back at the target.

This automated on/off cycle will continue 5 times, or until the signal is identified ‘off-source’ or fails to be seen again while pointing on the target.  After 5 cycles, SETI scientists are alerted and humans take over the logic of where to point the telescope next – this is a rare, but very exciting occurrence!  You are still critical because you’ve been classifying this signal up to now and are the experts on recognizing it.  We’ll all look together to figure out how to proceed and what other questions to ask.


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15 responses to “What We Do With Your Classifications”

  1. peteuplink says :

    Interesting stuff.

  2. Ignatzio says :

    What’s always concerned me is bad classification from novices like us. What if you miss a very interesting signal because we weren’t well-trained enough?

    • stuart says :

      Hi there

      Stuart here from the development team on the site. Try not to worry about this too much, much like every other zooniverse project, we combine the classifications of many people together to reach a conclusion about what to do. Every signal from the telescope is seen by multiple people and we will require some fraction of them to have marked a signal before we follow up on it. With SETI live we hope to track peoples performance and use that to weight their classifications as well. So please try not to worry and just go with your gut. Every click counts !


      In our experience, often new users are just as good (and some times better) than experienced ones!

  3. cosmicphil says :

    I feel like I would be a radio-astronomer as Ellie Arroway … CONTACT !?

  4. Qa'a says :

    Jill, thank you for the explanantion.

  5. Arvindkalyan says :

    honestly , am not able to comprehend what’s all this is about , except for the fact that I want to be a part of the cosmic-sleuths’ group. Can someone e-mail me as to the ABC of classifications etc …



  6. rsmoove says :

    How closely should we be looking for very feint signals that blend in with the background noise? Is this worthwhile? Or are we expecting a very distinct signal with better signal to noise characteristics?

  7. Vinicius Daniel says :

    I’m very excited about the project!

    thank you for solving our doubts

  8. Rod says :

    I am new here, with lots of questions. Only two for now:
    1st: Is SetiLive similar to Seti At Home?
    2nd: Are you looking only at known exoplanets?

  9. Micheal says :

    Ok, now I get it. I was wondering how you guys handled things after we see the images. Btw, Ignatzio, I am new to.

  10. Bill says :

    u guys are such a waste of money!!!!!!!!! our government is is in millions of dollars of debt, and they are still supporting you, even though nothing you guys do actually means anything. we should should stop funding seti, and save a couple million dollars

  11. Denise Hemphill says :

    Hi! Please ignore that last question from me, I found the star explanation! Also, you all have done such a great job putting in more information and examples, especially the valuable video tutorial. I changed the focus of my article from guiding people through the process to just encouraging them to come here. Thanks so much!

  12. Peter Hughes says :

    Hi, a few times now I have marked some very broken paths. They are each a sequence of at least three pulses at what seem to be similar strengths, but not strong at all – I marked them as broken. I’m a novice and really can’t tell if I’m pointing you wrong! It’s a bit worrying to think that these selections will be treated as happen-stance. Could we have more information about the amplitude range and what these can look like? Plus the frequency range and duration of each plot? I think you mention duration somewhere…

  13. Soozin says :

    This is great I wish it was presented on the home page or easier to find. Thanks 🙂

  14. Womanwarrior says :

    Have their been any ‘follow ups’ yet?

    I keep hoping I’ll find an ET signal!

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