The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

star field


SETI Organizations

Breakthrough Listen

A $100 million project to expand the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) over a period of 10 years was announced in London on July 20, 2015. Funded by Yuri Milner a Russian entrepreneur and physicist, the Breakthrough Listen project will have access to two of the world’s most powerful telescopes – the 100 Meter Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, USA and the 64-metre Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia. The search will cover 10 times more of the sky than previous SETI programs, will be 50 times more sensitive, and scan at least 5 times more radio spectrum 100 times faster. In addition to the radio search, the Automated Planet Finder Telescope at Lick Observatory in California, USA, will undertake world’s deepest and broadest search for extraterrestrial optical laser communications.

The ambitious project plans to survey 1,000,000 of the stars closest to Earth,  the center of the Galaxy and the entire Galactic plane. It also plans to listen for messages from the 100 closest galaxies. If a civilization based around one of the 1,000 nearest stars transmits to us with the power of common aircraft radar, the Breakthrough Listen telescopes could detect it. If a civilization on a nearby star (4.2 light years) transits towards us with a 100 watt optical laser, it should be detectable.

The vast amounts of data generated by the project and software to analyze it will be available to the public. Software developed by Breakthrough Listen will be open source and compatible with other telescopes around the world. Breakthrough Listen also plans to support SETI@home, University of California, Berkeley’s distributed computing platform. Previously nine million volunteers around the world supported this program by donating their spare computing power to search astronomical data for signs of life.

To learn about the potential languages of interstellar communication, and to spur global discussion of the ethical and philosophical issues, a one million dollar competition to create digital messages that represent humanity and planet Earth will be initiated. In speaking about the approach being followed, Yuri Milner said: “With Breakthrough Listen, we’re committed to bringing the Silicon Valley approach to the search for intelligent life in the universe. Our approach to data will be open and taking advantage of the problem-solving power of social networks.”

The project leadership included Martin Rees, Britain’s Astronomer Royal; Pete Worden, Chairman, Breakthrough Prize Foundation; Frank Drake, Chairman Emeritus, SETI Institute; Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of California, Santa Cruz; Geoff Marcy, Professor of Astronomy, University of California, Berkeley; Ann Druyan, Creative Director of the Interstellar Message, NASA Voyager; Dan Werthimer, Co-founder and chief scientist of the SETI@home project; and Andrew Siemion, Director, Berkeley SETI Research Center.


British Interplanetary Society

British Interplanetary Society (BIS) stakes its claim as the world’s longest established organization devoted solely to supporting and promoting the exploration of space and astronautics. It is a non-profit organization, obtaining its main income from a worldwide membership. The Society is devoted to initiating, promoting and disseminating new concepts and technical information about space flight and astronautics through meetings, symposia, publications, visits and exhibitions. Its publications include the monthly Spaceflight, the Journal of the BIS, Odyssey, an e-newsletter focusing on imaginative ideas, Space Chronicle, focusing on space history, and a variety of books. The Society's headquarters are located in central London.

A major BIS initiative is Project Icarus with design team members on several continents. It aims to design a credible interstellar probe as a concept  for a potential mission in the coming centuries; to allow a direct technology comparison with the prior BIS Daedalus project and provide an assessment of the maturity of fusion-based space propulsion; to generate greater interest in the near term prospects for interstellar precursor missions that are based on credible science; and to motivate a new generation of scientists to be interested in designing space missions that go beyond our solar system.

The engineering requirements for Icarus include design of an unmanned probe capable of delivering useful scientific data about the target star, associated planetary bodies, star environment and the interstellar medium. The spacecraft must use current or near future technology and be designed to be launched as soon as is credible. It must reach its stellar destination within a century (ideally much sooner). The spacecraft mission must be designed to provide some deceleration to increase time at the destination. More about Project Icarus can be read on the design teams web site, Icarus Interstellar.



NASA Exoplanet Science Institute ( is a science operations and analysis center that provides software infrastructure and archives for the exoplanet community and supports the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer.

The Institute maintains several public astronomy data archives and software tools. These archives include:

The NASA Exoplanet Archive serves the user community working with exoplanet data, primarily transit data sets from orbiting spacecraft Kepler and TESS, by providing long-term data curation and analysis tools.

The Keck Observatory Archive (KOA) which serves level 0 (uncalibrated) and 1 observations made on the High Resolution Echelle Spectrograph (HIRES) instrument and with the Near InfraRed echelle SPECtrograph (NIRSPEC).

The Keck Interferometer archive which contains data from the Keck Interferometer available to stientists and the public through a searchable database of instrument calibrated and averaged data.

The Palomar Testbed Interferometer (PTI) archive contains data from over 1000 astronomical sources available to scientists and the public through a searchable database of instrument calibrated and averaged data.

NExSCI is sponsored by the NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program and operated by the California Institute of Technology in coordination with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA.


Planet Hunters

Planet Hunters is a collaboration between Yale University, the Zooniverse, and citizens interested in searching for planets in the data gathered by the NASA's Kepler mission. The collaboration brings to the search for planets the  unique powers of human pattern recognition in reviewing light curves provided on the site from publicly released Kepler data. New planets are discovered by observing the way the light from a star varies with time. Some 20 million citizen observations have led to the discovery of 34 potential planets around distant stars.  Information about Planet Hunters is available at



Launched in 1999, SETI@home is currently in hibernation. When active it is a scientific experiment using five million Internet-connected home computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Individuals can participate in analysing raw radio telescope data for evidence of SETI communications. Participants download a screensaver-like program from the SETI@home website, as well as a block of raw Project SERENDIP data collected at the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico. That data is analyzed in the background, harnessing unused computer power. The computer sifts through the cosmic noise for patterns indicating a signal of artificial extra-terrestrial origin.

The program makes us of open-source software running under the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Networked Computing (BOINC).  SETI@home may be downloaded from

SETI@Home is a project of SETI at Berkeley. which conducts experiments searching for electromagnetic signatures of intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations, spanning wavelengths from radio to visible light, over ten orders of magnitude in characteristic time scale.


SETI Institute

Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute ( is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe. Its staff includes 120 scientists who conduct research in astronomy, chemical evolution, the origin of life, biological evolution and cultural evolution.

Some SETI work was funded by the U.S. government in 1992 but was cancelled by Congress a year later. A few scientists continued parts of the planned work independently until the project was resurrected by the SETI Institute in 1995 under the name Project Phoenix, backed by private funding. In 2001 Paul Allen (co-founder of Microsoft) agreed to fund the technology development and first phase of implementation of array of 350 antennas designed to carry out SETI observations. This culminated in the construction of 42 antennas for the initial phase of the array at Hat Creek, 290 miles northeast of San Francisco, Ca. In October 2007 the array began commissioning tests and initial observations. It is currently undergoing a three-year upgrade of its antennas and receivers.

The Institute produces public outreach and education programs and operates the Center for SETI Research. This develops signal-processing technology and uses it to search for signals from advanced technological civilizations in our galaxy. R&D efforts include the development of new signal processing algorithms, new search technology, and new SETI search strategies that are then incorporated into specific observing projects.


SETI League

The SETI League, founded in 1994. is an international organization dedicated to privatizing SETI. About 1500 League members in over 60 countries are converting 3- to 5-meter satellite TV dishes into radio telescopes of modest sensitivity. In combination, these telescopes constitute Project Argus, which seeks to obtain full-time coverage of the whole sky. About 140 telescopes are currently operating in this system. Programs are provide for use on home computers to sift through the cosmic radio waves for evidence of artificial signals. About 60 volunteer coordinators around the world assist individuals in these endeavors.(

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