LaserSETI @ RFO Speaker Series

Tomorrow night, May 26th, I’ll be kicking off the annual Ferguson Observatory Speaker Series. We’ll start from SETI basics, explain how LaserSETI is designed, and take questions. It’s free, it’s virtual, and they’ll give you your money back if you don’t learn anything!

Historical Transients

When it was announced a couple of years ago, I thought VASCO was a great idea and important work. Today, an article was published “70-Year-Old Astronomy Photos May Be Clues to Alien Visitors“, and despite the accurate but click-bait-sounding title, I’m glad to see they’ve done that work well, with great care and attention to detail. As with any general audience article on science or medicine, I encourage everyone to at least open the original paper to see what else you can glean from it, especially since this is a pre-print and is expected to evolve before publication.

Sample candidate, credit: Villarroel et al

While I’m quite pleased with the quality of both the article and the paper, I’d feel like I was leaving something out if I didn’t say that, based on what I see in the paper, while I agree the linear structure indicates fast-moving objects, I don’t think one can assume that the whole event is captured by a single plate, and thus we’re unable to constrain its angular velocity and therefore altitude. That puts them well within the range of a lot of high-speed and high-altitude experiments being done in southern California at the time, including the infamous Area 51, in Palomar’s neighborhood.

Map showing 10 different military bases near Palomar Observatory, credit: Bing Maps

VASCO has some great ideas of other catalogs to analyze, which I think is the right next step in any case. They’ve shown there’s some interesting events to be explained in our collective archives, and science is always better (and easier) with many data points. I look forward to seeing how this story evolves!

Megamasers!

Astrophysical masers are a well known phenomenon when molecules within a stellar atmosphere get excited and emit coherent photons. When it happens around an (active) galactic nucleus, it’s proportionately brighter hence the aptly-named megamaser.

(Image credit: impflip)

Today, news broke of one of the brightest known megamasers ever discovered!

(Image credit: Glowacki et al)

To be clear, astrophysical masers are different than what LaserSETI is looking for in a number of ways. First, these are radio waves, not visible light. Second, they shine equally in all directions (isotropic) vs. human-made lasers which are a focused beam (spatially coherent). Third, they don’t turn on and off like a light switch.