Astrobiology: July 2015 Archives

Search for Alien Life Ignites Battle over Giant Telescope, Scientific American

"The foundation was and still is interested in partnering with Arecibo, Scientific American has learned. But according to Arecibo Director Robert Kerr, that partnership is currently being prevented due to a poison pill inserted by the observatory's owner, the National Science Foundation (NSF). The situation is a startling example of a cash-strapped federal agency seeking to offload an expensive, world-class facility to the private sectorat the potential cost of compromising its ability to perform world-class scientific research. ... The NSF approved Green Bank's Breakthrough Listen partnership, allowing Milner to purchase 15 percent of the telescope's observing time for SETI, although NSF officials say even with that cash infusion Green Bank's continued operations remain in jeopardy."

Smith Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Ensure NSF Research Advances 'National Interest', House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

"All government employees and their agency heads need to remember they are accountable to the American taxpayer who pays their salaries and funds their projects. It is not the government's money; it's the people's money. The Scientific Research in the National Interest Act is a step toward more accountability."

Looking for extraterrestrials - The optimistic gamble, Economist

"Mr Milner reckons there are three reasons why the moment is right to go big on SETI. One is that Kepler, a space telescope run by NASA, has shown that there are a lot of potentially habitable planets out there. Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, who will run Breakthrough Listen, says Kepler-based studies suggest that perhaps one star in ten has planets that are "Earth-sized and lukewarm" not obviously too massive, too hot or too cold for vaguely Earthlike life. The second reason is the relentless rise of signal-processing power. The ten-billion-channel system Dr Marcy is working on would have been impossible just a few years ago. That all of the resulting data can easily be made available to other scientists and enthusiastic amateurs is another sign of progress. Some 3m people already participate in the SETI@Home project, which lets people use spare computing time to sift through previous SETI data. Since the project has now linked up with Breakthrough Listen, more will surely join it. Free access to data will almost certainly generate false alarms, but Dr Marcy accepts that as part of the price of doing business. A third motive for the push is that an unprecedented amount of time is now available on first-rate radio telescopes. Government-funded research has seen its purse-strings drawn tight recently, and instruments like that at Green Bank need new sources of income."


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