NEWS RELEASE, 10/05/98

UC Berkeley & Planetary Society Launch SETI Program at World's Largest Telescope; Hurricane Georges Can't Dampen Efforts

By Susan Lendroth, Planetary Society

ARECIBO, PUERTO RICO -- The Planetary Society, in cooperation with the University of California Berkeley, the SETI Institute and Arecibo Observatory, will launch SERENDIP IV, its newest search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), at Arecibo on Monday, October 5, 1998.

Despite the pounding taken by Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico from hurricane Georges, SERENDIP's creators, Daniel Werthimer and Stuart Bowyer of UC Berkeley, will finish preliminary testing and officially begin the Society's newest SETI search on Monday.

At 300 meters diameter (1000 feet), Arecibo is the world's largest radio telescope and attracts astronomers from around the world. Like a cosmic hitchhiker, SERENDIP piggybacks on to the various observing runs of many astronomers. Typically, the Arecibo dish scans all of the sky visible to it about once every six months, providing the SETI program with a thorough survey.

Although SERENDIP has been in operation since 1976, the SERENDIP IV sky survey will open a whole new range of possibilities when it searches for alien signals at what radio astronomers have nicknamed the "water hole."

Between the natural background radio noise of the galaxy and the radio absorption of our planet's atmosphere is a low-noise region of the radio spectrum, which scientists speculate might attract interstellar communication.

Falling in this relatively quiet frequency range are the natural radio frequencies of two common elements: hydrogen (H) and hydroxyl radical (OH). When these two elements are combined on Earth they form H2O -- water -- hence, the region's nickname. Since water is an essential element of life (as we know it), extraterrestrials might well select that frequency to carry signals to other worlds.

"Water holes have been the gathering places for animals of all species throughout Earth's history," noted Louis Friedman, Executive Director of the Planetary Society. "The water hole of the electromagnetic spectrum might be the place where far-flung alien species communicate across the vast reaches of interstellar space."

The SERENDIP search will concentrate on the hydrogen frequency. The SERENDIP IV equipment analyses 168 million radio channels simultaneously, concentrating on the radio band near the 1420 MHz hydrogen frequency.

SERENDIP was developed at UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory and operates at the National Astronomy and Ionosphere's Arecibo Observatory. The project is funded by the SETI Institute and the Planetary Society. Additional support is provided by Toshiba, Sun Microsystems, Intel Corp and Xilinx.

For more information about SERENDIP or other SETI projects sponsored by the Planetary Society, check out their web site.

The SERENDIP website is at

Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded the Society in 1980 to advance the exploration of the solar system and to continue the search for extraterrestrial life. With 100,000 members in over 100 countries, the Society is the largest space interest group in the world.

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