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SETI reloaded: Next Generation Radio Telescopes, Transients and Cognitive Computing

Submitter: Michael Garrett
Description: The Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) using radio telescopes is an area of research that is now more than 50 years old. Thus far, both targeted and wide-area surveys have yet to detect artificial signals from intelligent civilisations.

In a recent paper, I argue that the incidence of co-existing intelligent and communicating civilisations is probably small in the Milky Way (see Garrett 2015 to appear in Acta Astronautica http://arxiv.org/abs/1503.01336 ). While this makes successful SETI searches a very difficult pursuit indeed, the huge impact of even a single detection requires us to continue the search. A substantial increase in the overall performance of radio telescopes (and in particular future wide-field instruments such as the Square Kilometre Array - SKA), provide renewed optimism in the field. Evidence for this is already to be seen in the success of SETI researchers in acquiring observations on some of the world's most sensitive radio telescope facilities (including LOFAR) via open, peer-reviewed processes.

The increasing interest in the dynamic radio sky, and our ability to detect new and rapid transient phenomena such as Fast Radio Bursts (FRB) is also greatly encouraging. While the nature of FRBs is not yet fully understood, I argue they are unlikely to be the signature of distant extra-terrestrial civilisations. As astronomers face a data avalanche on all sides, advances made in related areas such as advanced Big Data analytics, and cognitive computing (captured in the image above, created by Danielle Futselaar) are crucial to enable serendipitous discoveries to be made. In any case, as the era of the SKA fast approaches, the prospects of a SETI detection have never have been better.
Copyright: ASTRON
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