What’s Causing Those Mysterious ‘Bursts’ From Deep Space?

By Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer
Originally published on…

They are blasts from the past, shrieks from the black abyss of the universe unlike anything ever found before. And they are deeply mysterious.

Are these some new cosmic phenomenon, an odd habit of nature that we never knew? Or could they be the deliberate wails of societies howling from the farthest corners of space?

Call for White Papers

Soliciting Community Input for the Advancement of the Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe, and the Creation of a Multidisciplinary Virtual Institute for SETI Research

To: US and International Scientific Community
Response deadline: February 17, 2017

This is an open solicitation released by the SETI Institute, Mountain View, California, USA.

Drake Equation: 55 Years Old

By Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer

Frank Drake had a problem. It was the fall of 1961, a year after his pioneering SETI experiment: Project Ozma. Using an 85-foot antenna in Green Bank, West Virginia, Drake had unfurled the intriguing possibility that we might find proof of intelligent beings by simply eavesdropping on their broadcasts. He had spent several weeks pointing his antenna at two nearby stars, tuning a simple receiver to 1420 MH, hoping to detect transmissions.

World’s Biggest Radio Ear

It’s now the biggest single-dish radio telescope on Earth.  Settled down in the bumpy karst of China’s Guizhou province, about 1200 miles southwest of Beijing, this newest instrument for studying the heavens is very similar in design to the famed Arecibo dish, renown both for its science accomplishments and its performance in two popular films, “Contact” and “Goldeneye.” 

OSIRIS-REx says hello to the ATA!

The Allen Telescope Array (ATA) uses 42 radio dishes to search for radio transmissions from ET. How do we know the system is working? To answer that question, we point the dishes in the direction of a spacecraft we know is transmitting radio signals back to Earth. If our software detects a radio transmission at the exact frequency as the spacecraft's transmission, we know things are working as they should. On September 11, 2016, we tested the ATA by pointing at the newly launched NASA Osiris-REx spacecraft. 

A SETI Signal?

A star system 94 light-years away is in the spotlight as a possible candidate for intelligent inhabitants, thanks to the discovery of a radio signal by a group of Russian astronomers.

The RATAN-600 radio telescope, credit: