A Roadmap for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence: New Landmark Study Released by the SETI Institute

Press Release From: SETI Institute
Posted: Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Mountain View, CA - Finding evidence of intelligent species on worlds orbiting distant Suns is a monumental task. For starters, how do SETI scientists decide what to look for? Or where to look - or how? Numerous SETI research projects exist in the United States and abroad. These modern searches may vary in detail, but the most ambitious of the modern SETI experiments have been shaped by a landmark SETI Institute initiative that plans for a highly strategic and exciting future.

New from SETI Press, SETI 2020: A Roadmap for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence is the published report from the seminal effort to chart the course of SETI research for the next two decades. This report is a detailed plan for the evolutionary development of SETI science and technology between now and the year 2020. It includes an analysis of the past and present status of the discipline, and recommends significant new approaches to the search.

"The SETI Institute is proud of this volume, which represents the most far reaching plan ever written for SETI. A dynamic group of scientists, engineers, and technologists were convened to examine the question of how best to conduct the scientific search for evidence of extraterrestrial intelligent life," says Thomas Pierson, who as SETI Institute CEO oversaw coordination of the working group. "Over two and a half years, a total of twelve days of meetings were held involving many of the brightest minds on the planet. The result is a twenty-year roadmap for SETI research that encompasses three innovative and diverse strategies."

"The 1973 Cyclops Report showed the world that SETI was possible with 20th Century technology," explains Dr. Jill Tarter, Director of SETI Research at the Institute. "This study optimizes current and foreseeable technologies to do the job."

Two of the recommended strategies provide the foundation for SETI projects that are already underway.

The Allen Telescope Array is a direct result of the SETI 2020 study. The working group recommended construction of a one-hectare (10,000 square meters) array of 350 six-meter telescopes that will allow for more powerful microwave SETI searches to be conducted simultaneously along with other types of radio astronomy. Recognizing a win-win situation, the SETI Institute and the University of California, Berkeley Radio Astronomy Lab joined forces to make the array a reality.

The resulting partnership between the organizations will permit astronomers from each group to observe continuously throughout the 1 to 10 gigahertz region of the spectrum.

Technology development for this new telescope is already well advanced at Berkeley's Hat Creek Observatory in Northern California, thanks to funding from the Paul G. Allen Foundation.

A second recommendation for optical SETI (OSETI) has spawned an exciting range of ongoing experiments. OSETI seeks to detect infrared or optical signals of extraterrestrial intelligent origin using existing telescopes and fast photon counting detection techniques. Searches now underway include a project led by SETI Institute Board of Trustee Chairman, Dr. Frank Drake. Drake, who performed the world's first scientific SETI experiment, Project Ozma in 1960, today oversees a project in California's Santa Cruz Mountains involving scientists from the University of California's Lick Observatory, the SETI Institute, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Berkeley.

Targeted OSETI programs operate at UCB Leuschner Observatory, at Oak Ridge Observatory in Massachusetts, at Princeton University and at MacArthur University in Western Sydney, Australia. Next year, the Harvard OSETI group will launch the first OSETI sky survey.

The third recommendation anticipates future advances in technology. The Omni-Directional SETI System is being designed to search continuously for strong low-duty cycle microwave signals in the 1 to 3 gigahertz region of the spectrum. Dr. Kent Cullers, Director of SETI Research and Development leads the effort to develop this project.

This SETI Institute strategic study was carried out from 1997 through 1999 under the Co-Chairmanship of Dr. Ronald Ekers, Director of the Australia Telescope National Facility, and currently President-Elect of the International Astronomical Union, and Dr. Kent Cullers, of the Institute. The published report documents the far-reaching efforts of this interdisciplinary group and should engage anyone with an interest in SETI.

Says SETI Institute Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak, "SETI 2020 is a work that's interesting for both the layman and the scientifically sophisticated. It is the definitive publication in this fascinating field, one that will give readers both big picture ideas and specific, technical detail. It's an indispensable resource for all those interested in the exciting new efforts to detect other intelligence in the cosmos."

The 551-page illustrated book, edited by Ron Ekers, Kent Cullers, John Billingham, and Louis Scheffer, contains a foreword by Philip Morrison and is available on-line at the Gift Shop tab of the Institute's home page. The SETI Institute is currently the sole distributor of SETI 2020.

For book purchase information, come to

For more information about the SETI 2020 working group, visit

For more information about the SETI Institute, visit

Optical SETI at the Institute can be found at

The SETI Institute is a non-profit 501 (c)(3) institution dedicated to research and education.

The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe.

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