Archive | March 2013

SETILive’s First Birthday

A year ago plus a few days, SETILive was launched, coinciding with the Science Channel’s “Are We Alone?” month.  They featured all things ET including SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and along with science, some mythology, fact, fiction, speculation and some stuff that’s simply beyond the rim. This wonderful range of material naturally revolves around this rich, inspiring and stimulating subject. It all rises from the fundamental question that the Science Channel used as their tag line: “Are We Alone?” and crosses interdisciplinary lines from science to religion, from investigative techniques to conspiracy theories, engineering to imaginative fantasy fiction.

Well, March 2013 is Science Channel’s second annual “Are We Alone?” month and they’re once again in partnership with the SETI Institute. Part of that partnership will be connecting viewers with SETILive through a link on the website and probably some on-air messages.  Discovery has a blog post about the event.

In the past year, 78,000 people have signed up to be “SETIzen scientists” at SETI Institute  / zooniverse’s SETILive project. Together they’ve viewed sets of waterfall images almost 4 million times, looking for ET signals and also dutifully marking earth-based radio interference signals. We went seven long months without a critical piece of the SETILive concept – follow-ups: The ability to command the telescope to re-check a particular habitable-zone star (usually in the Kepler field) immediately after finding potential ET signals in the data to see if the signal persists.

Shortly after getting follow-ups working, we re-vamped the site to give it a nicer look and made it a bit more efficient and friendly including an improved tutorial. We recently made the user’s task of marking live data much easier by not requiring the signal descriptions clicks that are now only needed for processing archived data, when time is not critical. When checking live data, we also encourage users to skip marking signals that they see are showing up in more than one beam and just look for ET candidates, which show up in one beam only. With live data, we only have about 2.5 minutes to check as many of the twelve sets of live data uploaded to us every 3 to 5 minutes when the telescope is active.

Since they became operational in October, we’ve triggered almost one thousand follow-up requests. Maybe about half of those arrived at the telescope in time to produce a follow-up measurement, but that percentage is improving with the marking improvements we’ve already made will improve further in the future as we get smarter in the marking analysis algorithm and how deal out the data to users. Other improvement to both the front- and back-ends are also coming in the next few weeks.

We’re looking forward to an influx of new and returning users this month and we welcome you all to join in this unique way of contributing to the grand endeavor of trying to answer the question: “Are We Alone?”

Lou Nigra

SETILive Project Scientist