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

Time Lapse videos!

Since the launch of this website, we’ve had live images from all the cameras: science and internal “pi camera”. But it’s a lot easier to really understand and explore what the instruments are seeing when you can watch how things evolve across the whole night (or day). So, without further ado, please head on over to the Live Status page, and watch some of the movies!

There’s a subtle red line underneath each thumbnail to help indicate they’re clickable. Each one should be the last full day or night cycle. That is, if we’re observing, it’ll be last night’s movie, or during the day, it’ll be yesterday’s daylight hours.

IfA Checkup and Upgrade

For the first time in years, I took a trip to Maui where the primary reason was actually to have fun. But of course I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to visit LaserSETI! And my father-in-law was kind enough to come along for the ride and even give me a hand–literally and figuratively.

It’s always a pleasure, after long drive up the mountain as the last step of the journey, to climb the stairs of the Airglow Building and see the instruments, peacefully sitting amongst the incredible scenery.

The main bit of work we did, besides inspection and maintenance check, was to install a 19V step-up transformer, because we’ve found that the USB bus on this newer generation of NUC computers can be a little finnicky when supplied with 12V like everything else in the instrument. Since the science cameras and disk are connected via USB, any issues in that department are big issues.

Checking in on the air filters, it was clearly time to replace them. Apparently summer is a dusty time up there on the summit. These MERV 13 filters aren’t cheap, but they do a their job very well and have demonstrated a very reasonable operational life expectancy.

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!