Archives September 2021

Doors, Sensors, and New Frontiers in Astronomy

Feb 28, 2018

Hello again!

We received requests following the last update to see the real sun-shade doors in action so, by popular request, please enjoy exactly that:

Astute observers may notice that only one instrument is fully populated with optics.  The other is empty as we work on the Raspberry Pi which will attach to that camera and controls the double doors, provides GPS time synchronization, and measures the environment inside the enclosure using a camera, accelerometer + gyroscope (IMU), barometer, and thermometer.

Speaking of the environment, it’s rough outside!  While we’ve designed the enclosure to tolerate and operate in as wide a range of weather as possible, it’s impossible to predict with 100% confidence that we’ve succeeded in protecting the electronics and optics from the elements and maximizing the adverse conditions—mostly wind, temperature changes, and humidity—that we can reliably observe.  We’re particularly interested to compare our inertial measurements to local wind speeds to know how much wind is too much and causes the cameras to vibrate.  We’ll also measure temperature and pressure for correlation with any fogging that (shouldn’t but) might occur and have a camera to visually track the internal environment—primarily to monitor the shutter doors and optical window, but also to catch something we didn’t expect, like a squirrel infestation.  (Which we’ve therefore now prevented by expecting it ahead of time!)

Recall last edition’s exciting announcement that we’ll be building eight cameras into four enclosures split across two observatories (looking at two fields of view).  Our deployment plan is as follows:  Start with two enclosures at one observatory, and make sure they survive the most extreme weather for at least 3-6 months.  Then deploy the second two enclosures at a second observatory, iterating on the design as necessary or at least having gained confidence that this expensive hardware won’t get damaged sitting on top of mountains for years at a time!

Lastly, we wanted to make sure you heard about a special achievement from an unrelated but also crowdfunded project at the SETI Institute.  Unistellar has partnered with us to bring to life a new kind of telescope, the eVscope ™, which makes amateur astronomy not only super easy but, using a radically new hybrid digital/optical system, it yields striking images normally only attainable by telescopes many times its size and uses that same technology to contribute to science.  

They had a wildly successful campaign, raising over $2M, and even though only a first few prototype units have been built, they’re already producing scientific results!  The eVscope’s observations of an asteroid occulting (blocking) a star, allowed scientists to more precisely constrain the orbit and shape of this far out object.  This normally requires a lot of luck and then very challenging coordination between multiple observatories, but a network of mobile enthusiasts is remarkably in a better position to do with the aid of modern technology!  

Their powerful, portable “smart” telescope is available for pre-sale now, and is expected to ship to customers by the end of 2018.  We hope their experiment in revolutionizing astronomy and citizen science is successful and serves as a model for other such projects!

Thank you for reading, please remember to follow the SETI Institute on Facebook and Twitter for more groundbreaking news, and as always thanks for your support!

LaserSETI 2018

January 12, 2018

Hello and happy Trip Around the Sun 2018!  We’d like to help start your year in a positive way with a very exciting announcement.

Thanks to additional donations outside of the Indiegogo campaign, we’re going to be able to deploy EIGHT cameras instead of four, meaning that we can fully monitor two independent fields-of-view!  This is not only very exciting because we’re twice as close to all-sky coverage, but it’s an ideal balance between risk and progress.  We need to prove out the instrument, housing, and operations before putting too much hardware at risk, yet two fields-of-view enable us to compare and contrast what we see in two different parts of the sky.  This can be critical when you’re doing exploratory observations, for instance helping to distinguish instrumental effects from actual observed phenomena.

We’ll start by deploying two enclosures (four cameras) to the first site, then let those “bake” through the worst weather we can find.  Then, in the second half of this year, we’ll deploy the other two to another site thousands of miles away but pointing at the same two patches of sky.  Having four cameras from two sites looking at each patch of sky not only gives us stellar confidence in any events we observe, it also provides coverage in case one site has inclement weather.  That’s what it takes to watch all the sky all the TIME! 

The engineering model on the left (with some panels removed for visibility) is rapidly turning into reality!  The sun shade opens and closes, both in this movie and in real life, and we’re now focusing on the environmental sensor suite: GPS, accelerometers, temperature, barometer, and of course integrating data from local observatory weather systems.  We’re iterating on the mechanical drawings for the enclosure and box underneath which, in addition from protecting the equipment from the elements, will allow the whole system to be tilted forwards or backwards to facilitate field alignment across observatories.  The second pair of cameras have been delivered from the manufacturer, and we’re working with them on a software upgrade to speed the readout rate which might nearly double our sensitivity to short pulses! 

Following up on previous updates, if you missed the Facebook Live we did with Laser SETI scientist Eliot Gillum and Indiegogo campaign whiz Ly Ly, the first and second half videos are available on the SETI Institute Facebook page!  And finally, all perks were shipped at the end of Nov or early Dec, so we hope everyone has received their order and is now showing it off with the kind of pride and zeal normally reserved for pictures of a first-born child!

Thanks again, and more to come as it develops!

LaserSETI Facebook Live on Monday, Dec 4!

December 1, 2017

We interrupt the regularly scheduled programming for a brief announcement:

Encouraged by your positive feedback on these updates via Indiegogo, we thought you might enjoy a LIVE video Q&A session with the people behind the Laser SETI campaign and project!  Hear the story behind the perks and progress on the engineering.

Find us on Facebook, @SETIInstitute, and join us this Monday afternoon at 3:30pm (Pacific time).  Bring your questions, stay for the great science news!

November 20, 2017

I know most of you didn’t support the campaign purely for the great perks, but we hope you’re as excited as we are to hear that you’ll be receiving any perk you ordered very shortly!  All items have been manufactured and delivered to us, orders have been locked on Indiegogo, and we’re starting the shipping process now.  There’s a lot of other work to do around here, but we think we can box up and ship them all out within the next couple weeks!

Have you or someone you know been inspired by Laser SETI, or the search for any other type of techno-signature?  We’ve heard such wonderful, supportive messages from wide and far that we wanted to share them with others!  If you have a haiku, painting, burnt toast reminiscent of our camera, or just a sentence or two you’d like to share, please tweet it to @SETIInstitute or share it #LaserSETI

For those with upcoming seasonal festivities, we hope to see some inspiration shared by wearing a Laser SETI hoodie instead of an ugly holiday sweater, or a SETI hat instead of knit cap.  We thought we might even discover some feline alien life chasing a Laser SETI laser pointer!

On the engineering front, it’s nothing but progress as well!  As backers, we’re pleased to share with you the above preview rendering of the two-camera enclosure.  As we mentioned in the campaign originally, two cameras are required per field-of-view at each site, and this modular and scalable system houses both the cameras as well as the electronics required to manage, process, and store data for them.  Its “eyes” are half closed because the extra shutters which protect the optics from direct sunlight are shown halfway through the opening process.  

There’s more than we can explain here shown in the picture, but of course there’s also a lot more progress that you can’t see!  The electrical system has been built and tested.  Structural parts that can’t be 3D printed are being sent for fabrication, which is one of the longer aspects of the schedule.  Exact cross-site field-of-view alignment models have been built.  We’re currently targeting the end of February to deploy the first cameras, and we’ll update you all on that schedule as it develops–and we’ll try to continue to share pictures in each update so you can literally see the instrument come to life!

Thanks again for all your support and happy holidays to all Earthlings who celebrate them!

September 29, 2017

Hello from LaserSETI headquarters!  Thanks to your generous support, we’ve made great progress and we’re excited to share what’s been happening.
The shipping and receiving department has been very busy.  Our fabulous custom crystals have arrived, and the shirts and hoodies should be in soon!  We’re still ahead of schedule on getting your perks out, and we’ll let you know when they start shipping out.
The camera systems themselves have also had a lot of deliveries.  We can’t wait to start working with the second camera, which will be arriving at the SETI Institute on Monday.  The transmission gratings are being manufactured, the computer to run the cameras has come in, as well as most of the components of the electrical, environmental, and site services subsystems.  In numbers, we’ve spent close to $50k thus far, have 21 components in hand, 5 on order or in transit, 3 ready to order, and 7 waiting on test results or TBD.  This is exactly where we were hoping to be at this point, we’re very excited about the modular enclosure design, and hopefully by the next update we’ll have some pictures to show the pieces coming together!
Cameras are, of course, no good unless you have somewhere to put them, and we were thrilled to have a very positive response and walkthrough at our first-choice observatory!  We can’t announce where that is yet, but site requirements have been established, met, and already exceeded in some cases, and the paperwork is underway. When it’s official, you’ll be the first to know.
In summary, the project and perks are off to a great start.  We’re very glad to have you all aboard, and we hope you’re enjoying this as much as we are!

Thank you for believing in Laser SETI and helping to make it happen – we couldn’t do it without you!

August 18, 2017

We did it!

We hit our $100,000 goal!!!  That means this groundbreaking science project is full speed ahead! 

On behalf of the SETI Institute scientists and staff, I want to thank each and every one of you for getting us here.  We couldn’t be more excited!  We’ll get moving on this next phase of the project as soon as possible, and of course keep you all in the loop as we progress.

A guiding principle for good projects and good people is “it’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver, than over-promise and under-deliver.”  While we listed December 2017 for most perk delivery timeframes, know that we’ll get started on those as soon as we can.  We kept our projections conservative, and we’ll hope to get those out to everyone ahead of that timeline.

But wait, there’s more!  As we’ve said repeatedly throughout the Laser SETI campaign, we’re all about efficiency, and now that we’re looking at actuals instead of projections, there’s a possibility we may be able to deliver the dual-site system!  That would validate the entire system and allow us to begin true wide-field SETI operations.  There’s a lot of work ahead of us to make that happen, but not many hours left in the campaign and a few more donations could really make the difference!

So please don’t stop sharing your viral enthusiasm with others!  Of course, it’s never too late to support Laser SETI.  You can always go to and put “Laser SETI” in the comment.

And again, THANK YOU!

August 17, 2017

We’re very close to the finish line and it couldn’t be more exciting!  Just today, Laser SETI hit over 500 backers, and we’re so grateful to each and every one of you.  We want to continue doing groundbreaking science and our motivation and resolve increases every time we hear from someone who shares our passion!

Speaking of passion, Seth Shostak, our Senior Astronomer, has recorded an urgent message for those interested in SETI.  Please enjoy his witty commentary and prepare yourself for future party repartee.

Another way to satisfy your curiosity and educate others is an article published today, written by project scientist Eliot Gillum, answering your questions as solicited by Astronomy Magazine.  Along similar lines, we encourage you to read the recent Centauri Dreams blog, Laser SETI in Context.  Learn more about the broader context of SETI research and contact scenarios!

Finally, we need to issue a small correction from the last update.  The crystal is 2” x 2” x 3” and will still include the lighted base.  We apologize for the misunderstanding.

Thanks again for all your support!  Please continue to show your enthusiasm with those around you, perhaps by sharing the above resources.  We look forward to continuing the conversation with you all as we progress on this project in the coming months!

August 11, 2017

The campaign is strong, and we’re feeling good about being able to deliver on the next phase of Laser SETI.  We recently breached $60k from well over 400 backers!  A hearty THANK YOU to all of you who’ve made this possible.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Bathsheba Grossman, the artist who designed our favorite perk, the Crystal.  It captures the Laser SETI effort perfectly, using that beautiful spiral galaxy to illustrate the literal and figurative grand vision of the project.  One set of cameras stares unblinking and majestic, scanning for signs of something new, unknown, but not totally unexpected.

The animation on the campaign page gives a great sense of this, but “a picture is worth a thousand words” so we thought you’d want to see just that.  The crystal is 3″ x 3″ x 4″ and will brighten any space you choose!

Adding to the excitement, because of our endless dedication to cost efficiency, we’ve found that we can offer the crystal in all its stunning beauty and include with every PREVIOUS AND FUTURE selection of this perk an attractive lighted base to highlight this fusion of science and art!  (Final base will differ from the one pictured above)

We also want to announce a Q&A with project scientist Eliot Gillum, hosted by Astronomy Magazine.  If you or your friends have questions, please submit them by Tuesday the 15th, and we’ll address as many as we can!  Knowledge is power and, now, an extra reason to get excited about Laser SETI.

Please continue to share the campaign, online and in the real world.  Thank you for your support!

August 1, 2017

Wow! Laser SETI campaign extended to 8/18!

Great news everyone . . . thanks to the generous contributions of 335 backers, the Laser SETI campaign has raised over $55,000 of the $100K needed to achieve our vision.  Thank you!

We’re excited to announce that the Laser SETI campaign will be extended until August 18 to help us achieve that goal. This will enable us to build two cameras and spatially localize targets on the sky, validate the algorithm and distribution of potential signals.

To celebrate the Laser SETI campaign extension, we’ve added a great new perk. The Broadband Roll-up is $419 and includes the Galaxy Crystal, Laser SETI t-shirt AND hoodie, SETI Institute cap + pin, laser pointer, sticker, quarterly reports, and, of course, GOOD KARMA.

We think everyone will interested to read the latest from Laser SETI scientist, Gerry Harp. “Big discoveries in science are often made when innovative instruments probe nature in new ways,” said Gerry. “Laser SETI will search the sky for a variety of pulsed light signals that might have been overlooked before. We may find ET, and we also may find new physics.”

We still need your help in order to make it to the finish line.  Your support has made this campaign possible and you’re our best advocates.  Please tell your friends about Laser SETI and SHARE on your social networks!  We hope you’ll also consider making an additional contribution to support Laser SETI and to get in on this new perk.

We’ll continue to keep you up-to-date on the progress of the Laser SETI campaign. In the meantime, THANK YOU!

July 22, 2017

We’re thrilled to have over 200 backers and be already more than a third of the way to our goal!  In fact, with 3 weeks left to go, our chances look good to exceed it and even truck right on to a stretch goal!  More science is more awesome for more people!

This is all made possible by you–picking your favorite perks, telling your friends, and sharing on social media.  Thank you so much and please continue supporting us!

Speaking of sharing, we recommend reading some of the great articles that have been spreading the word on LaserSETI.  We were featured in Astronomy MagazineCentauri Dreams did a 3 post series, and both IFLScience and New Atlas waxed poetic.  Or, take the shortcut and just read the excellent excerpts below!

Thanks again for your tremendous support.  You’ll be hearing more from us soon, and we hope to hear more from you, too!