I’m Seeing Stars!

And not the cartoon kind! 🐦💫 The Bay Area isn’t done with rain storms, and this definitely isn’t a great observing night by any standard, but it’s so nice to see stars again. It’s been weeks!

RFO1 Console screenshot showing stars and clouds

The news isn’t quite as good from Haleakala, unfortunately. Hawaiin Telecomm repaired the fiber, decided they needed to redo it, redid it, and yet we still haven’t made Contact with the instruments. Checking multiple times per day hasn’t seemed to help. Something about a “watched kettle never boils” I think?

It’s a Good Time to Count Your Blessings

It’s still Dec 13st here on the West Coast, and we’re hoping the New Year brings better luck and better skies for LaserSETI and a wonderful 2023 for each and every one of you!

We’ve had a lot of rain in California recently. I can’t remember the last clear night we’ve had. I was excited because the astronomer’s forecast was (and still is) good for tonight, but there must be valley fog or something else low in the sky that it’s blind to. The only photons making it to the instruments tonight are from our Sun, bounced off our lovely but obscured Moon.

View from RFO2, with only the Moon bright enough to break through the moisture

And, you might’ve noticed, it’s been a long time since even the PiCams have updated from IFA on Haleakala in Maui. Almost two weeks ago now, there was a large ice storm which knocked out power. You can still see the frost on the instrument windows just before they went offline on the Status page. On Tuesday, we got power back, but only to find there was another internet cable cut somewhere halfway up the mountain, so we’re still without connectivity to the instruments.

It can be easy to get frustrated when things don’t go your way time after time, but I think that’s shows something special about the holiday season and New Years. Everyone wishes things were better, and that’s natural, that’s how we keep making progress. But we all have a million things to be grateful for, to appreciate how we got where we are and what or who is going to help us keep going tomorrow.

So let’s focus on what’s great in the world and in our lives, and leave some greatness to achieve in 2023!

Challenge Match: Two Days Left

Yesterday, the SETI Institute hit its goal of raising $10,000 for our projects that search for life beyond Earth, succeeding on a challenge grant from long-time SETI Institute supporter Fritz Demopoulos. Now he has extended the September Challenge by $2,500!

The SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array (ATA) in Hat Creek, CA

There are only two days left to unlock a $12,500 gift for LaserSETI and its siblings. If you donate before Oct 1, your gift will go twice as far. A gift of any size helps the search!

Hot hot hot!

LaserSETI would like the sympathize with all of the humans experiencing a heat wave today.

We spent a long time refining the thermal protection system for the instruments. Internal circulation, special heat-shedding paint, multiple exhaust fans, sunshades with embedded mirrors to reject even more heat. Days like today prove the value of that investment.

It’s 44 C (112 F) right now at Ferguson Observatory (RFO) and the cameras are the hottest I’ve ever seen them: 61 C (142 F)!

For comparison, the cameras on top of Haleakala, Maui (IFA) are a cool 16 C (61 F) right now.

The Passing of Frank Drake

My friend Laurance had some very touching and appropriate words on this sad day, and he agreed to let me share them here.

“I was very sorry to hear of Frank’s passing this morning. I could not help but think of the huge scientific legacy he has left.

His Drake Equation set the agenda for thousands of researchers to investigate all aspects of life in the universe. And he co-founded the SETI Institute which would become a world-class place to do this research. I spent my career researching up and down the Drake Equation, including 35 years at the SETI Institute (so far). When he retired from UC Santa Cruz, he asked me to teach his Life in the Universe class (which I did for seven years).

It would be difficult to overestimate his legacy in establishing the study of life in the universe and the search for it as a legitimate scientific field into which young scientists could do legitimate research.

It isn’t often that one gets to know someone who got there first – who was the first one to open up a wholly new field of science. But Frank certainly did that with quiet but definitive authority.

I’m sure that our own “L”, from the Drake Equation, was made longer by having had Frank grace our planet. Bending humankind’s thinking to consider our (and our planet’s) place in the universe is his legacy for the ages. It was a great honor to be around to see it all happen and to get to know Frank.”

Dr. Laurance R. Doyle 
Director, Quantum Astrophysics Group
Principal Investigator, Whale-SETI Project 
Carl Sagan Center, SETI Institute 

On a personal note, I took that Life in the Universe class, and it definitely had an impact on me. It may be the class I remember best. It’s only today that I realize that it was his class, and the guest lecture he gave one day wasn’t a guest lecture. Now, if you do a search for it, the results are a long list of prestigious universities, teaching those who will listen to consider their place in the universe.


Ice Cream Social!

If you’re in the Bay Area and you like ice cream (and who doesn’t like ice cream??), then come by SETI HQ next weekend and see:

  • Our new building, with all sorts of cool new decorations, displays, memorabilia, etc.
  • Me, probably wearing my standard LaserSETI t-shirt
  • A real LaserSETI camera
  • Lots of awesome SETI Institute scientists and staff
  • And meet other awesome regular people who like science!

Click here to register and learn more: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2022-seti-institute-ice-cream-social-tickets-388906147757

Franklin Antonio

It is the way of this world for life to grow, prosper, and pass on, to make room for new life. But the passing of Franklin Antonio, co-founder of Qualcomm and benefactor of LaserSETI, is more than just the regular machinations of nature.

Franklin Antonio, a co-founder of Qualcomm, has died. He was 69.
Photo credit: UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

I’ve had the pleasure to know a great many bright people, but Franklin stands out on the list. In any area he was passionate about, he could go toe-to-toe with professionals and win. Chip-level software, astrophysics, or feeding those in need–he knew how he wanted the world to be better and was a determined and overwhelming force for doing so.

It’s fair to say that half the LaserSETI instruments in the field today are due to his generosity and shared vision of searching the universe for life. I still remember how thrilled I was to have his support, and I’m gratified I got the opportunity to thank him for it and show him the difference he made with me and on our project.

Driving Efficiency and Reliability

A LaserSETI instrument is full of computers, sensors, and other electronics, and hence it’s also full of wires. Each wire has to be cut to length, connected firmly, and worked around carefully when performing any other operation on the instrument.

The current base design

It’s therefore very exciting that we’ve designed a custom PCB (printed circuit board) that can reduce all that complexity, effort, and risk. Thanks to today’s modern electronics ecosystem, it’s easily outsourced and since it replaces existing COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) components, these benefits add nothing to the cost of an instrument.

IFA2 power distribution after bypassing camera relays (and with most of the wiring tucked behind)

We’re not quite done making sure every need and clearance is accounted for, but we’re close. Since these traces will carry a decent amount of current, however, we have at least validated the current flow, trace width, copper thickness, and resulting temperature increase is very well within limits (credit: PCB Trace Width Calculator). We want both the boards to be super reliable for the long term, even when it gets hot inside the instrument on some days or at some locations.