It was a project that launched a thousand dreams among the stars.
Fifty years ago, NASA published a 253-page large book called Project Cyclops. He summarized the results of a NASA workshop on the discovery of alien civilizations. The assembled group of astronomers, engineers and biologists concluded that the Cyclops was needed, a wide range of radio telescopes with up to 1,000 antennas 100 meters in diameter. At the time, the project cost $ 10 billion. Astronomers said it can detect strange signals up to 1,000 light-years away.
The report began with a quote from astronomer Frank Drake, now Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz:
At this very moment, radio waves sent by other intelligent civilizations are almost certainly falling to Earth. You can build a telescope that can point to the right place and adjust to the right frequency to detect these waves. Someday, from somewhere among the stars, the answers will come to many of the oldest, most important, and most exciting questions that humanity has ever asked.
Cyclops report, long sold out, but available online It would become the bible for a generation of astronomers attracted by the dream that science could answer existential questions.
Jill Tarter, who read the report as a graduate student and devoted her life to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, “for the first time we had technology that allowed us to do an experiment instead of asking priests and philosophers. “He told An. interview a decade ago.
Cyclops and the work that inspired me this week was remembered when Word shone around the world that Chinese astronomers had discovered a radio signal that had the characteristics of being an extraterrestrial civilization, that is, it had a width extremely narrow band. 140.604 MHz, a precise nature that would not normally achieve on its own.
They made the discovery with a new giant telescope called the Five Hundred Meter Spherical Aperture Radio Telescope, or FAST. The telescope pointed to an exoplanet called Kepler 438 b, a rocky planet about 1.5 times the size of Earth and orbiting the so-called habitable zone Kepler 438, a red dwarf star hundreds of light-years away. in the constellation of the Lyre. Its surface temperature is estimated at 37 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a candidate for life.
Just as quickly, an article in the state-run Science and Technology newspaper about the discovery disappeared. Chinese astronomers throw cold water on the result.
Zhang Tongjie, chief scientist of ET. China Civilization Research Group, was quoted by the newspaper André Jones, journalist Followers of Chinese space and astronomy developments said: “The possibility that the suspicious signal is a type of radio interference is also very high and needs further confirmation or exclusion. This can be a long process. “.
“These signals are radio interference; they are due to radio pollution from earthlings, not ETs, “he wrote in an email.
This has become a family affair. For half a century, SETI, or the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, has been a mole, finding promising signals before following them into orbiting satellites, microwave ovens, and other terrestrial sources. Drake himself pointed a radio telescope at a pair of stars in 1960 and soon thought he had found gold, only to discover that the signal had been lost to radar.
Recently, a signal that appears to be coming from the direction of the nearest stellar explosion, Proxima Centauri, was located in radio interference in Australia.
As NASA announced last week that it will make a modest investment in the scientific study of unidentified flying objects, the intention was to provide the accuracy and practicality of what many criticized as security thinking, as well as the workshop. Cyclops of the agency that took place at Stanford for a period of three months in 1971. The conference was organized by John Bellingham, an astrobiologist, and Bernard Oliver, head of research at the Hewlett-Packard Corporation. The men also edited the conference report.
In the preface, Dr. Oliver wrote that if something happened to Cyclops, that year would be considered the most important year of his life.
Said Paul Horowitz, Professor Emeritus of Physics at Harvard University, who has continued to design and launch his own listening campaign called Project META, funded by the Planetary Society. Film director Steven Spielberg (“ET” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) attended the official opening in 1985 at Harvard-Smithsonian Agency Station in Harvard, Massachusetts.
“SETI was real!” Dr. Horowitz added.
But what about Dr. Oliver initially received only a “Golden Fleece” award from Senator William Proxmire, a Wisconsin Democrat, who campaigned against what he considered a government waste.
“In my opinion, this project should be delayed a few million light years,” he said.
On Columbus Day 1992, NASA actually began a limited search. A year later, Congress repealed it at the request of Sen. Richard Bryan, a Nevada Democrat. After denying federal support since then, SETI, backed by grants to a nonprofit, the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, has slowed. Recently, with a $ 100 million donation, Russian businessman Yuri Milner created a new effort called Hacking Listen. Dr. Horowitz and others have expanded their research to include what they call “optical SETI,” where they monitor the sky to detect laser flashes from distant civilizations.
Dr. Horowitz said Cyclops was never built, which is also the case, “because by today’s standards it would have been a huge, expensive animal.” Technological advances, such as radio receivers that can listen to billions of radio frequencies simultaneously, have changed the game.
China’s new large fast telescope, also known as the “Sky Eye”, was built in part with SETI in mind. Its antenna occupies a crater in Guizhou, southwest China. The size of the antenna is smaller than that of the famous Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, which collapsed shamefully in December 2020.
Now FAST and its observers have gone through their own false alarm tests. SETI astronomers say there will be more.
Those who persevere pray that the great silence, as they say, will not discourage them from there. They say they have always looked for the long term.
“The Great Silence is not expected,” Horowitz said, mostly because only a fraction of the Milky Way’s 200 million stars have been studied. No one ever said that detecting this rain of space radio signals would be easy.
“It may not happen in my life, but it will happen,” Wertimer said.
“All the signals discovered by SETI researchers so far are made by our own civilization, not another civilization,” Wertheimer said in a series of emails and telephone conversations. He said Earthlings might have to build a telescope on the moon to escape the growing radioactive contamination on Earth and the interference of constellations from orbiting satellites.
He said the current time could be a single window to track Earth’s SETI.
“A hundred years ago,” he said, “the sky was clear, but we didn’t know what to do.” “In a hundred years, there will be no more sky.”
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