SETI Opens All Data and Coding to the Public

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) just announced that it is releasing all information to the public. SETIQuest.org was launched on Wednesday to facilitate the release and help coordinate an ‘army of citizen scientists’ to help search for anomalies in interstellar microwave patterns.

The NewScientist reports, “SETIQuest is the product of astronomer Jill Tarter‘s TED Prize wish. After being awarded the TED Prize last year, Tarter was given the opportunity to make a single wish before an auditorium full of the top names in technology and design. Tarter wished that they would “empower Earthlings everywhere to become active participants in the ultimate search for cosmic company”.

With SETIQuest, Tarter and TED are making that happen. The website will make vast amounts of SETI data available to the public for the first time. It will also publish the SETI Institute’s signal-detection algorithm as open source code, inviting brilliant coders and amateur techies to make it even better.”

According to the SETIQuest website, “Searching the universe for an intelligent signal is a huge challenge that we at the SETI Institute have been working towards for the past 25 years. However, in 2009, when Jill Tarter received a TED prize and a chance to make “a wish to change the world”, we had the opportunity to move the search to the next level.

Of all scientific explorations, it seems pretty obvious that SETI should be global and involve all humanity. The answer to the old, universal, human question “Are we alone?” impacts all of us. The detection of another technological civilization will recalibrate our place in the cosmos, recalibrate who we are, and potentially trivialize the differences among human Earthlings and thereby extend our future longevity.

SetiQuest is a community involvement that will lead to a significant improvement in our ability to search for other intelligent civilizations in the cosmos, and in the process, to use SETI to change the world.”

This is the latest in a growing trend of bringing the public into scientific research, especially in astronomy. GalaxyZoo has been extremely successful utilizing the public over the last 2 years. They currently have three sites open to the public:

Galaxy Zoo 2 where the public can assist in identifying what type of galaxy has been photographed in tens of thousands of frames from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Galaxy Zoo Supernovae where the SDSS images are again used, this time to search for the largest explosions in the universe

Galaxy Zoo Mergers where users look for the rare occurrences where galaxies collide

Why these initiatives have been so successful has to do with the broad appeal for enthusiasts to take part on their terms. The human brain is also able to discern patterns in the chaos that computer algorithms cannot find, making personal participation key for both SETIQuest and GalaxyZoo.

There has been avid speculation for centuries as to the existence of alien life. Most of this can easily be dismissed as hoaxes, direct lies, hallucinations, or mental instability, yet it absolutely cannot be definitively proven that life does not exist on other worlds. So this question has been left mainly to the realm of philosophy. Though it still cannot be proven either way, we can examine the evidence and make certain conclusions that can sustain the very strong probability that alien life exists. With luck, this new SETI initiative will be able to confirm what most of us already suspect, that we are indeed not alone in the universe.

Suggestive Data that Mars once contained Life

The first evidence came from a Martian rock that NASA released evidence for on 06 Aug 1996. This rock, known as the SNC meteorite had been ejected into space by an asteroid impact on Mars about 15 million years ago, and orbited the sun until it impacted with Antarctica about 13,000 years ago. This rock contained fossilized micro-organisms. Not absolute evidence, but decent. Recent data collected by the twin rovers currently operating exceptionally (and well beyond their original scope) from rocks on Mars itself shows mounting evidence that life on Mars was probable in the past.

Mathematical Probability

We are living in a star system with less than a dozen planets. Now, assuming that life does not exist elsewhere in our solar system (to do this, we must discard the potential on Mars, Titan, Europa, Venus, etc.), that leaves us in say a 1 in 10 chance (rough constant, but for arguments sake, lets say this is a general value). Consider that astronomers currently estimate 200 billion star systems in our Milky Way Galaxy (a good ballpark figure), and a minimum of 200 billion galaxies in the known universe (probably a very conservative estimate), we have 40 sextillion (40 billion billion, or

40,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) star systems in the known galaxy. With such radically gargantuan sized numbers like this, how would it be that this is the only planet in the entire universe to have life on it? To say so is ridiculous and blind.

The Earth was changed by Life itself

In Planetary science terms, our world is composed of the Lithosphere (rock), Hydrosphere (all water), Atmosphere (all gasses), and a 4th part, the Biosphere (all life). Though many naysayers contend the Earth is precisely the perfect distance from the sun, orbital and revolutionary frequencies, contains a single light moon, etc. for life to exist, they perpetually ignore the fact that life itself has changed the conditions on this planet. Look at the atmosphere. On Mars and Venus (our closest neighbors, both ‘terrestrial’ planets, both similar in size and composition) the atmosphere is mostly CO2 (Carbon Dioxide). Doesn’t it seem a bit strange that ours is mostly Nitrogen with strong showing by oxygen?

Easily explained. All life here on Earth is what is known as carbon based, meaning the carbon atom is the basic building block by which other atoms can attach themselves into organic molecules. Start off with an atmosphere of similar composition as Venus or Mars, take the carbon out of the atmosphere, put it into the biosphere (life), release the attached couple oxygen atoms, and VOILA!, you have the atmosphere of modern Earth. Its not magic, its called photosynthesis. In other words, life itself (collectively) has modified its own conditions to those which better serve it as a whole.

Taking these 3 arguments, it becomes well established that life is indeed highly probable outside Earth (ie. alien life), even with the lack of direct evidence today. The impact of SetiQuest on this search will be determined in the next few years.

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This is the second week of a new daily series on News Junkie Post known as the Progressive Unity Project. Every day, there will be a new article published from the perspective of the environment/ecosystem, labor/unions, LGBT, immigration reform, science, legalization of marijuana, or secularity.

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