COSMIC: The new technological leap in alien search mission

Category Engineering

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The National Science Foundation's Very Large Array (VLA) and the COSMIC receiver are ushering in a new era of alien search mission. VLA uses 27 antennas to cover 80% of the sky, while COSMIC is developed by SETI aiming to find narrow pulses, indicators of an advanced civilization. COSMIC will also verify signals from the Voyager 1 as well as upcoming radio telescope arrays.

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The hunt for alien life will get a shot in the arm with one of the world’s most powerful radio telescope arrays joining the mission, situated about 50 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico.

The National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) will now help gather the information that enables researchers to analyze emissions that only artificial transmitters make, which signals the existence of an advanced civilization far beyond.

The VLA has 27 antennas spread over 23 miles

"The VLA is the go-to instrument for radio astronomers, but this is the first time we are using it in a wide-ranging and continuous search for technosignatures," said Andrew Siemion, Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI at the SETI Institute, in a press release.

--- Advanced computing hardware clubbed with the ultra-sensitive telescope --- .

The VLA is an astronomical observatory consisting of 27 antennas spread over 23 miles of desert real estate. Each of these telescopes is 25 meters in diameter and can be rearranged into different configurations to capture radio signals from space. For the last six years, the observatory has been involved in a project known as VLASS (Very Large Array Sky Survey), which aimed at a radio reconnaissance of 80 percent of the sky. Scientists fed a copy of the data into a special receiver sporting very narrow (approximately one hertz wide) channels.

In 2023, VLA began a 6 year long project called the VLASS (Very Large Array Sky Survey)

The receiver, dubbed "COSMIC" – the Commensal Open-Source Multimode Interferometer Cluster- is developed by the SETI Institute in collaboration with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the Breakthrough Listen Initiative. According to the team, signals from an artificially constructed transmitter will contain such narrow bands, and their discovery would indicate the presence of an advanced community.

VLASS covers 80% of the sky

"COSMIC operates commensally, which means it works in the background using a copy of the data astronomers are taking for other scientific purposes," said Paul Demorest, Scientist and Group Lead for VLA/VLBA Science Support at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Researchers say it's an ideal and efficient way to get large amounts of telescope time to search for rare signals.

--- The COSMIC experiment opens up huge possibilities --- .

COSMIC utilizes a special receiver that has ultra-narrow 1 hertz wide channels

The new experiment enables researchers to evaluate a wide variety of transmissions, such as pulsed and transient signals. The team estimates that the number of star systems examined will be approximately ten million.

The COSMIC system has been analyzing signals from the Voyager 1 spacecraft since the beginning of 2023 to verify the "operation of the individual antennas in the array as well as combining their observations to produce a result that clearly shows the carrier and sidebands of the transmissions from the spacecraft." The spacecraft is the farthest human-made object at a current distance of 15 billion miles.

Voyager 1 is the most distant human-made object at a distance of 15 billions miles

"The COSMIC system is a fantastic example of using modern general-purpose compute hardware to augment the capabilities of an existing telescope and serves as a testbed for technosignatures research on upcoming radio telescopes such as NRAO's Next Generation VLA," saidJack Hickish, Founder, Real-Time Radio Systems Ltd.

In association with the ultra-sensitive VLA, COSMIC is expected to be approximately a thousand times more comprehensive than any previous SETI search. Scienctists are optimistic about the new possibilities opened up with this equipment.

COSMIC is expected to be 1000 times more comprehensive than previous SETI search

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