New Search Spaces for

Radio SETI
G. R. (Gerry) Harp
April 22, 2011
Acknowledgement: Speaker is grateful to SETI Institute for
support of the work described here. This work was also
supported by Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, National
Science Foundation (0540599 and AST-08326), NASA
(NNG05GM93G), and others.

Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
• Beginning of EM field search – Drake 1960, using radio
wave detection.
• Schwartz and Townes 1961 – Suggestion to look for
laser radiation in optical.
• Fast forward 2011 – Radio and Optical SETI searches
are abundant (though each is relatively small)
• Many nice introductions to (radio) SETI and OSETI can
be found in book:
“Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence”, Ed. by Douglas A. Vakoch,
SUNY Press, 2011. Available at Amazon ($35).

• I’ll be making many references to this book, especially
Ch. 4 by Harp et al.

Caveats: Chapter authors receive no royalties from book, I’m not a
spokesman for the SETI Institute, only for myself.

higher than anyone anticipated 10 years ago • Probably the ratio is higher – We find life almost everywhere we look on Earth – Bio-signatures of simple life: Spectroscopy of Exo-planetary atmospheres – Techno-signatures indicate intelligent life 3 . Extremophiles.Motivating SETI • Exoplanets. 1) – We find planets almost everywhere • ~10% of stars observed are known to have planets. Tarter. Ch. and SETI (Jill C.

The pulse has been “dispersed” by the ISM. Blair et al. 6. 4 . Right: The pulse as received by a detector on Earth. probes this deeply) Ionized Interstellar Medium (ISM) – Space is almost empty. Stars farther away will be further weakened and broadened.Challenge for Interstellar Radio Communication (Ch. but tiny density of ionized hydrogen (free electrons and protons) messes with attempts to communicate Received Pulse Transmitted Pulse 5% 80% → 60% 40% 20% 0% Pulse Power Pulse Power 100% 4% 3% 2% 1% 0% -2 -1 0 1 Time (microseconds) 2 -2 -1 0 1 2 Time (microseconds) Left: A 50 ns pulse is emitted from transmitter located near Proxima Centauri (4 LY).

• Sine waves are affected by relative acceleration between transmitter and receiver – Remember: Earth rotates about axis. about sun • Ambiguous? If we discover a sine wave we know know: Either signal is from ETI or it is new sort of natural source. • Sine wave conveys zero information rate – Information must be conveyed in a separate signal • Scientists are incredibly tolerant.Non Obvious Aspects • Circularly polarized sine waves are not affected by ISM – Recognized only later. (^_^). this is a good reason to keep doing sine wave search. Though this is not conventional wisdom. Yet. I haven’t been fired.. 5 .

Fast Fourier Transform algorithm. Cheap high speed computing makes this the dominant strategy for SETI even today.Branched to optical only after we developed lasers of our own that would outshine the host star and easily detected (Ch.SETI is Evidently Technology Driven We look for technologies similar to our own – 1961 .Started with radio carrier waves (think AM radio) – 1965 .Sophisticated communication protocols developed for satellite communication is driver of new ideas in radio SETI – look for radio signals with information and built-in error correction (Ch. 9 – 12) – 2007 . 4) 6 . – 2002 .SETI Institute commences observations with an interferometer radio telescope – 2008 .

At the heart of new searches is FFT.SETI is Evidently Technology Driven Funding cycle is very conservative • We begin substantive searches for technologies only after they are available on earth → Anthropomorphize much? • SHOCK! The hidden reason that radio SETI is still dominated by narrow band (sine wave) searches is the Fast Fourier Transform: – No other search algorithm can compete for speed. 7 . Why should ET be limited by compute cycles at our end? – Sine waves used to seem obvious choice. – This is an anthropomorphic factor (bad). – Pot calls kettle black: We propose new search spaces.

• Phase modulation is less error prone: – GPS uses Binary Phase Shift Keying. -1 First 25 values: 8 .GPS Communication • We don’t use amplitude modulated (AM) radio to talk to GPS satellites. Gold Code error correction – Start with a 1023 bit Gold Code: +1.

GPS Communication • Multiply Gold Code with Carrier Wave Gold Code Product with carrier wave Note phase flips 9 .

we can “lock on” to the repeating Gold Code • We propose Autocorrelation as method for detecting these signals • AC is also good detector for amplitude modulated signals (what’s old is new again) – Pumping a pulsar with an external driving source – Examine AC of the square (absolute value) of signal 10 . • Total of 20460 bits →1 bit of informaon redundancy allows error correction • If ETI uses this communication mode. this is 1 bit of information containing the value 1. Invert the sequence and you have a 0..GPS Communication • Concatenate 20 copies of modulated carrier.

– If the values of E(t) ever repeat (like GPS signal) after time ~ N samples.GPS Communication .Discovery • With telescope measure E(t). first value of AC spectrum – Even though E(t) runs positive & negative. we’ll pick up GPS signal. electric field amplitude versus time. E(t)2 is always positive – Σ E(t)2 = large number • Shift by 1 sample: Compute Σ E(t)E(t+1) – Not necessarily large. • Shift by 2. Recompute. then the magnitude of Σ E(t)E(t+ N) will suddenly become large again 11 . • Compute Σ E(t)E(t). Etc. If we are tuned right. Shift by 3.

See a peak in spectrum every 1 ms = repeat time of Gold Code Decay of peak values with increasing delay is expected (details!) 0 4883 9767 14648 19531 24414 29296 Time Delay (µs) 12 .Discovery We found it just as planned: Power (arb.GPS Communication .) Autocorrelation spectrum of captured GPS signal.

contains mucho information. e. Information is right there in detected signal. 13 .Improve Example to Make SETI Beacon • Transmitter sends arbitrary signal with arbitrary bandwidth. Encyclopedia Galactica • After a short delay (µs – 10s) send second copy (can be overlaid on first signal) • Autocorrelation (very efficient algorithm) discovers signal • There is no ambiguity about where the information lies.g.

Time (arb.Twice Sent Message = Beacon Blue: Mock-up realization of generic signal (sampled Gaussian white noise). Magenta: Same signal sent second time after delay = 16 samples. -3 30 46 Second copy with delay N = 16 samples.) 3 Dl Delayed d Signal Si l 2 1 0 -1 -2 Send signal once.) 62 14 . Receiver sees a superposition of the two signals 4 Signal Voltage (arb.

15 .) 3000 2500 Detection of repeat signal at N = 16 samples = Σ E(t)E(t+16) 2000 1500 1000 500 0 -500 0 16 32 48 64 80 96 112 128 Time Delay (arb.) Detail: Once identified. deconvolve repetition to get good measure of information-containing signal.AC of Exemplary Signal 3500 Zero lag autocorrelation = Σ E(t)E(t) = large number Pow wer (arb.

Morrison et al. noise in receiver – New ideas every day: Symbol-wise AC. 16 . about sun • AC detection is more easily confounded by background radiation. Improved sensitivity for subset of signals.Non Obvious Aspects • Autocorrelation (AC) detection of arbitrary signal is not affected by ISM – Another reason why AC is proposed • AC detection is not affected by relative acceleration between transmitter and receiver – Forget: Earth rotates about axis.

17 . This was shown to be RFI in the vicinity of ATA.5 microsecond delays.What Does AC See? Discovered repeating signal with 1267. Harp. Ackermann. we’ve observed several such repeating signals. et al. Correlation good for 100 repeats! In setiQuest data posted online.

north mid south Harp. Ackermann. et al.How do we know it is RFI? Signal is found to be strongest on horizon near 120⁰ Azimuth. Hence RFI. . 18 Astorga. Tests using subarrays show that source is closer to north end of array.

Time AC Naturally occurring masers observed in setiQuest data. et al. If modulation is repetitive. can be observed with AC of the square of measured signal. No interesting signals on masers so far. Idea of using a maser: J.Power vs.M. Civilization pumps a maser with time dependent signal Maser acts as amplifier for signal. but we can apply this method to any setiQuest data we like. A pulsating maser is an Amplitude Modulated signal. Weisberg. 19 .

What Does Power AC See? Discovered amplitude modulated repeating signal with 10 ms delays. we’ve observed several such repeating signals. Direction of Galactic North Pole. 20 . In setiQuest data posted online. Very likely RFI. It is too fishy that repeat is close to a humanreferenced time of exactly 10 ms. Correlation good for >20 repeats.

Harp. 21 . et al. Traditional Narrow Band Search: A few Kepler Objects of Interest (KOI’s) Ackermann.A few examples of weird signals from Conventional SETI search (Narrowband) on setiQuest data.

et al.Squiggle Pulse Broadband Ackermann. 22 . Harp.

Highly dispersed pulse Ackermann. 23 . et al. Harp.