Ask Dr. SETI ®
Tune In The Universe!
by SETI League executive director Dr. H. Paul Shuch
You are a star voyager. You share your starship Earth with six thousand million other human passengers, as you hurtle across space and time. Your ship is adrift in a vast ocean of four hundred thousand million stars, which we call the Milky Way. How can you look out at those other suns and not wonder about the creatures inhabiting their starship planets? The question "Are We Alone?" is as old as our species, yet it is only within an eyeblink of human history that we have begun to develop technology to seek a meaningful answer.
Welcome to Tune In The Universe, a hypertext book about the amateur quest for our cosmic companions. I am H. Paul Shuch, executive director of the international SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) League, and it is my privilege to lead you on this journey. In the chapters ahead, we will explore the scientific and technological breakthroughs which lead us to now envision a universe teeming with life. We will review the early efforts of the SETI discipline, discuss the various searches now underway, grapple with the challenge of recognizing what we see, and speculate on the impact which extra-terrestrial contact may have on our own starship, and its future course. But first, it is necessary to establish a few ground rules.
My personal background is radio astronomy. As a radio amateur, I use radio telescopes (sensitive microwave receivers, powerful computers and elaborate antennas) to sift through the cosmic static, in search of patterns which nature cannot produce by any mechanism known to us. This is probably not the only way to search for evidence of other civilizations in the cosmos, but these are the tools available to me. In recent years a number of phenomena (reported sightings, abductions, the Roswell incident, crop circles, Area 51, etc.) have defied explanation. These matters are certainly interesting, and may be worthy of further study by qualified experts. But we in the SETI community are primarily radio astronomers, arguably qualified to recover and analyze microwave signals. Beyond that we claim no particular expertise. We will continue to concentrate on what we know best, and encourage others to do the same.
Every year, dozens of small radio telescopes such as this one are springing up in front yards, back gardens and schoolyards, on campuses and clubhouses worldwide. Built by radio amateurs and electronics hobbyists, they are part of Project Argus, a global effort to scan the skies for signals of intelligent extra-terrestrial origin.
Tune In The Universe tells you how you can be a part of this effort. The search for life in space promises to be perhaps the last scientific frontier in which individual amateurs can make a significant contribution. When The Call comes in, it will be a great moment, not just for amateur radio, but for all of humankind.
This book's six chapters will guide you through the process of joining humanity's greatest adventure. Chapter One provides a crash course in cosmology. Structured around the famous Drake Equation, it leads us to the inevitable conclusion that we inhabit a universe teeming with life, and that some of that life awaits radio contact. In Chapter Two, I share with you my answers to questions received from amateur radio astronomers during the first six years of The SETI League's existence. Chapter Three introduces SETI, the scientific Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. In Chapter Four, you will learn how to assemble your own amateur SETI station, and join in the Search. And to provide a context for amateur SETI involvement, Chapter Five contains a sprinkling of my personal memoirs. It endeavors to show how an ordinary radio ham found himself caught up in the greatest scientific adventure of all time (and one in which you, too, can become involved). Chapter Six is provided as a bonus. It contains excerpts from Sing a Song of SETI and Sing More Songs of SETI, the official songbooks of The SETI League, Inc.
I thank you for joining me on this cosmic quest. We Know We're Not Alone!
entire website copyright © The SETI League, Inc.
this page last updated 23 November 2002
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