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What’s the word? Follow-ups! (and more)

We haven’t posted an update since March 25th and one volunteer pointed that out to me in a message and then asked: “What’s the word?” Well, it’s “follow-ups”… mostly.  We’re finally going to start testing live follow-ups next week. We’ll be doing the testing in the background at first and until we’re certain that it’s working properly, you won’t be able to tell that we’re doing it and the “Followups” counter on your profile will remain zero. Once we’re sure it’s working, we’ll start updating the follow-up counters and let you know anytime a follow-up gets to a certain level. Early next week, we’ll also go live with some subtle, but very important changes: We’ll improve the waterfall display processing and we’ll be adding simulated ET signals. Read on…


Being able to do follow-ups is a unique and exciting SETILive capability. If  enough users mark a signal that appears in only one waterfall diagram (and therefore a potential ET candidate), the ATA telescope can be commanded to immediately go back to collect and send us more data from that target so we see if it still looks like ET through our usual marking. If it still shows up in the same single beam, a second followup will be triggered and then basically “rinse and repeat” as long as it continues to look potentially ET. Anyone classifying signals when this happens will be getting the follow-up waterfalls for classifying as well.

When they are enabled, tested, and fully active with live notifications (hopefully next week), we expect first follow-ups to happen pretty often as you might expect since single-beam signals are not that unusual. Terrestrial signals can often appear in one beam since the amount of signal that leaks into each beam varies quite a bit and if the signal is weak, it might not be strong enough for us to see it leaking into two of the beams. The leakage can change quite a bit as the ATA adjusts its beams to track the celestial sources and as the terrestrial source (an airplane, satellite, etc. ) moves with respect to the ATA. So, if a terrestrial source happened to look ET in one set of waterfalls, it likely won’t look that way in the next set we get several minutes later when the geometry has changed between the ATA and the RFI source. So, most followups won’t go past the second level and we won’t be notifying you that a follow-up is in progress unless it survives the second set of markings. At that point you’ll know that we’re starting to track a potential ET and that will be quite exciting even though it’s very unlikely to continue to pass the following ET tests. If it does… well, now that could get very exciting.

Waterfall Changes and Simulated ET Signals

We’ll be randomly adding simulated ET signals so that we can measure our detection capabilities. As soon as you finish with a classification having an artificial signal, we’ll let you know where the signal was on the waterfall. In order to make this measurement more consistent and useful and to improve your ability to see weak signals in general, we’ll also change the waterfall processing and display to give them a more consistent brightness scale. It should improve your ability to make out very weak signals even when there’s some stronger RFI there too.

The main thing you might notice with the new waterfall processing is that the background noise pattern of random bright and dim spots will be more consistent and a bit more “filled in”. We hope this will help you pick out weak signals better and more often. It might even help reduce our tendency to see signal patterns in the noise – I’m not sure about that, though. Part of this improvement comes from keeping bright signals from causing the background to get dimmer. A side benefit is that the dark banding caused by strong signals going bright then dim should be less severe. I already know that you’ll probably see some new artifacts in the noise background that the old processing took out and we encourage you to point these and other things out in Talk as you did with the old processing, especially if it makes classification difficult. When it goes live, I’ll create a new Featured Topic on Talk for you to post any comments about these display changes and the artificial ET signals.

The statistics we collect on your classification of these artificial signals in the presence of terrestrial RFI signals will eventually become part of a peer-reviewed and published scientific paper. So, it’s important for you to continue to make your best effort at marking all signals in each waterfall as well as those that might be ET. We need to know what else was in the waterfall to properly measure our collective detection capability in the presence of a variety of RFI signals.

Thanks for your continued participation and I hope you look forward to the SETILive going to the next level with live follow-ups as much as we do.

Lou Nigra

SETILive Science Team


Something new, some things to come

We’ve been live in this initial phase for over nearly two weeks now and the number of people joining the search and your genuine excitement for the project has been downright awe-inspiring and very gratifying for the entire SETILive/Zooniverse team.
By getting involved with SETILive you’re joining a truly live experiment and the most ambitious project the Zooniverse has ever built from both a technical (taking live data from the ATA) and user-interface standpoint. Building an interface that will allow us to spot potentially interesting signals has been our main focus thus far and following some very helpful feedback from the SETILive community we’re updating the signal-marking interface today to make it more flexible and descriptive, and we’re expanding the tutorial resources.
The immediate goal of marking signals in SETI Live is to work out what signals are terrestrial interference so we can trigger a followup observation at the ATA for promising signals. As you probably know, we’ve had some start up issues with web sites and maintaining live data connection with the ATA and that is now becoming stable. With the general stability improving and with these improvements to the interface, we’re in good shape to start fully closing the loop and over the next week or so we’ll be working to fully and consistently enable the followup requests to the ATA. We’ll also be working on introducing artificial ET signals now and again to the signals and of course, will indicate to you when that happens right after you finish marking the observation. This will allow us to get our evaluation of this experiment off and running in the coming weeks.
We’ve changed the marking process to make the “Describe the Signal” a two-step process, which should reduce some confusion. We still have the basic tutorial introduction and that should still be enough to get you right into it, but we’ve expanded the tutorial resources for you if you want more guidance or background information. There’s now a live video showing how to mark a range of examples.We’ve also enhanced our Signal Gallery, still showing information on what might be producing the signals , but when you move your mouse over the image, you get marking advice both visually and in the text.
So, welcome to the next phase of SETILive! We’ve taken a few small, but significant steps in making this work better for you and therefore, better for the quality of the science we eventually produce together. We all hope that will be finding a truly promising signal, but it could be analyzing the implications of NOT finding one, or quantifying the possibilities of applying your collective intelligence in this way to this type of problem. Any of these outcomes will be scientifically important.
In the discussions, there’s a lot of interest in more background on what it is you’re seeing and what to expect an ET signal to look like. In the near future, look on this blog for more background information on the science of SETI and the nature of signals both terrestrial and extraterrestrial.
In the background, we’ll also be looking at subtle changes in the way we present the data to you that could help you see weak signals better and more consistently. Of course, we have to be very careful about any changes to what you’ve already got better and better at using. We’ll also be evaluating alternate visualizations that involve color, but that is a tricky business and we won’t change anything that dramatically without some careful evaluation.
Thanks to all of you for getting us off to such a great start and for helping us to make it better.

Welcome to the SETI Live Blog

We’re pleased to welcome you to the blog for SETI Live. We’re asking for the public’s help in searching for extraterrestrial (ET) in radio signals from space. SETI uses the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) and lots of computer power to search for these signals automatically – so you might ask why we need you to help us search the skies in SETI Live? The answer lies is the talents humans possess, and computers cannot quite replicate. With computers and human brains working together, SETI Live can do more: faster.

The researchers at the SETI Institute have spent years creating an automated search system called SonATA (SETI on the ATA). This system handles the hugely complex task of deciding what to do with the signals the ATA detects. The huge number of signals in a single observation means that even though it is very advanced, SonATA just cannot complete the various queries to classify whether or not the candidates are interesting before the next data acquisition cycle starts up.

In order to avoid uneven and unknown completion of signal classification, SonATA skips over many “crowded” frequency bands. We are literally blind to any ET signals that might be arriving at those frequencies. Overall, it’s only a few percent of the entire 1 to 10 GHz frequency range we are trying to explore systematically, but those might be the most important frequencies!

Faster processors will help, but we really need to better understand what signals are in those crowded bands, and what is generating them, so that we can help SonATA do a better job of classifying and finding any really interesting candidates buried underneath all this clutter. That’s where you come in. We want to use your eyes and brains to help us work through these crowded bands. We want you to tell us about all the signals/patterns you can see, and why you think they may be from ET technologies rather than our own.

You’ll have to be quick – the telescope will move onto its next target in about 90 seconds!

SETI Live has been created by the Zooniverse, the SETI Institute and TED, through the TED Prize to allow everyone to join the search. You can read more about the science on the main SETI Live site, and our quick tutorial will explain how to get started in analyzing the signals from the ATA. We don’t know how well this will work. We’ve never had an army of citizen scientists to help us before. Until now we’ve been blind to these frequencies. We want you to help us regain them, and see if there’s an ET signal hidden there. Eventually, we want to learn whatever tricks you use to do your classifications, so we can teach SonATA how to do it as well.

We think that SETI Live is going to be very interesting and fun! Join the search now…