prototype of revolutionary SETI telescope unveiled at 40th anniversary
of the world's first scientific search for extraterrestrial
Robert Sanders, Media Relations
- In a tree preserve a dozen miles from the campus of the University
of California, Berkeley, astronomers today unveiled a prototype
telescope that will lead to the development of the world's most
powerful instrument for finding signals from extraterrestrial
On Wednesday, April 19, representatives of the SETI Institute
and UC Berkeley introduced the first in a series of prototypes
for the One Hectare Telescope, or 1hT. So named because of its
total signal 'collecting' area (one hectare is 10,000 square
meters or 2.47 acres), the 1hT is a partnership between the
university and the institute, the world's largest private research
organization devoted to the comprehensive search for life beyond
The seven-dish prototype is a precursor to what will eventually
be an array of hundreds, perhaps thousands of small backyard-type
satellite dishes linked by sophisticated electronics to create
an unparalleled SETI observing instrument. The 1hT also will
be a premium instrument for conducting more traditional research
in radio astronomy, such as examining the formation of stars.
prototype launches the next generation of SETI research in a
bold way," said Dr. Jill Tarter, director of SETI research at
the institute. "There is also tremendous potential for other
radio astronomy. The 1hT is a fundamentally new way to build
radio telescopes, and it's not an overstatement to say that
the world astronomy community is paying very close attention
to this project."
Leo Blitz, director of UC Berkeley's Radio Astronomy Laboratory
and a professor of astronomy, said the 1hT draws on the laboratory's
success in designing, building and operating arrays. "The 1hT
is a natural for us. It will be a wonderful tool for discovery."
The instrument unveiled today is a prototype and is not intended
to conduct SETI or even more traditional radio astronomy. Instead,
it will serve as a testbed for solving a variety of scientific
and technical challenges associated with the so-called 'back
end' of the telescope, including the development of signal processing
methods for dealing with interference, especially interference
from telecommunications satellites. At the same time, scientists
will study the feasibility of using those very same satellites
to calibrate the array, which would improve the performance
of the full 1hT.
Using the prototype, scientists will also analyze inexpensive
drives and mounts under field conditions and develop a variety
of hardware and software for the final array. Included among
items to be tested are the array control software and early
versions of the digital beamformer, which will allow the 1hT
to observe multiple SETI target stars and other radio astronomical
sources at the same time.
With lessons learned from the first prototype, a second and
larger prototype will be built in 2002. That prototype will
allow testing of the 'front ends' of the 1hT which are derived
from a number of innovative consumer technologies still under
development. The final version of the 1hT will be constructed
at UC Berkeley's Hat Creek Observatory, located about 290 miles
northeast of San Francisco. The Hat Creek Observatory is currently
the site of the ten-telescope array now operated by the university,
called the BIMA (Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland Association) Millimeter
Array. The 1hT is scheduled to be completed and operational
Once completed, the 1hT will be the world's largest telescope
devoted to SETI and among the largest radio telescopes in the
world for any purpose. It will be comparable in signal 'collecting'
area to the Very Large Array in New Mexico, the premier imaging
instrument in the world for radio astronomy. The largest radio
telescope in the world is the 1,000-foot telescope at the Arecibo
Observatory in Puerto Rico, which is currently used on a limited
basis by the SETI Institute's Project Phoenix, the world's most
powerful and well-known SETI search. Project Phoenix and its
scientists are widely held to be the models for much of the
1997 film "Contact," starring Jodie Foster.
For SETI observations, dedicated time on large radio telescopes
like Arecibo is scarce. The result for SETI is less than optimal;
at best, SETI scientists are able to scan only a few hundred
star systems per year. The 1hT would expand observations at
least a hundred-fold.
SETI observations require not only a large collecting area (to
find the weak signals expected from a transmitter many light
years away) but also highly sophisticated digital receivers
to scrutinize billions of radio channels.
Unlike conventional radio telescopes, the 1hT is also expandable.
By adding new dishes to the array, the 1hT could be made larger
at relatively low cost. The 1hT's expandability gives it the
potential to grow into the largest radio telescope in the world.
The 1hT team will begin the search with 1,000 nearby sun-like
stars and gradually move outward to encompass 100,000 and then
one million candidate stars in our galaxy. In the Milky Way
Galaxy alone, there are an estimated 400 billion stars.
The team will search for weak continuous-wave signals - each
like radar or radio broadcasts from Earth - at millions of individual
frequencies, as well as narrow-band pulsed signals. The SETI
computer system will conduct a real-time analysis designed to
automatically check out all candidate signals and then alert
researchers immediately to signals of interest. At the same
time, the pulsar processor and radio astronomy correlator will
provide observational data on traditional astronomical sources.
Among those participating in the development of the 1hT is Dr.
Frank Drake, whose Project Ozma - conducted in April 1960 using
an 85-foot radio telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia - was
the world's first scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
The following year, Drake was asked by the National Academy
of Sciences to prepare an agenda for the first scientific meeting
to discuss SETI (participants in that meeting included the young
Carl Sagan and the late UC Berkeley Nobel laureate Melvin Calvin).
The resulting agenda is the now-famous Drake Equation, which
continues to be a widely used framework for estimating the possible
prevalence of communicating civilizations in the Milky Way Galaxy.
Drake also proposed the idea for what became the 1hT, sketching
out the concept over a series of meetings convened by the SETI
Institute in the late 1990s. These meetings featured an international
blue-ribbon panel of scientists and technologists charged with
mapping out strategies for future SETI science and technology.
is an exciting day for SETI," said Drake, who is currently president
of the SETI Institute Board of Directors and research professor
of astronomy at UC Santa Cruz. "In the years since Project Ozma,
SETI has evolved from a set of theories into a science that
is practiced by eminent astronomers throughout the world. The
1hT is the next logical step in the advancement of that science."
Construction of the final 1hT is estimated to cost about $25
million, much less than the cost of building a comparably sized
radio telescope using conventional design and methods. Funds
for the 1hT are being raised from private sources by the SETI
Institute. The Institute's Project Phoenix is currently the
world's largest privately supported radio astronomy program,
with an annual budget of more than $3 million.
The 1hT prototype is located at the Russell Reservation, a 283-acre
research station for wildland resource research and teaching
owned by the University of California. The site, located in
Lafayette, Calif., is also home to Leuschner Observatory, which
consists of two automated optical telescopes sitting atop hills
above the main reservation.
Images and further information on the One Hectare Telescope
(1hT), Project Ozma, Project Phoenix, and other SETI programs
are available at the SETI Institute Web site. A detailed explanation
of the Drake Equation also can be found at this site: http://www.seti.org
Information about the University of California-Berkeley Radio
Astronomy Laboratory and the Hat Creek Observatory can be found