Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

A pair of telescopes that constantly search the nighttime sky for signals from intelligent life in our galaxy are the first of hundreds of telescopes planned to be installed as part of a project called “PANOSETI” – for Pulsed All-sky Near-infrared Optical SETI.

What’s underway is a panoramic all-sky, all-time near infrared and optical technosignature finder.

When finally assembled, PANOSETI will be the first dedicated observatory capable of constantly searching for flashes of optical or infrared light.

Project researchers come from UC San Diego, UC Berkeley, University of California Observatories and Harvard University.

The team installed two PANOSETI 0.5-m telescopes in the Astrograph dome to commence a wide-field optical SETI search and continue prototyping designs for the full observatory concept. Picture: team outside Astrograph on January 14, 2020 (left to right: Aaron Brown, Shelley Wright, Jerome Maire, Wei Liu, Rick Raffanti, Dan Werthimer, and James Wiley.
Credit: UCSD OIR Laboratory

New window

The deployment of the two PANOSETI telescopes at the recently renovated Astrograph Dome at Lick Observatory offers astronomers a new window into how the universe behaves at nanosecond timescales.

Dan Werthimer, chief technologist at UC Berkeley’s SETI Research Center and co-investigator explained in a UC San Diego statement:

“When astronomers examine an unexplored parameter space, they usually find something surprising that no one predicted,” Werthimer said. “PANOSETI could discover new astronomical phenomena or signals from E.T.”

“The goal is to basically look for very brief but powerful signals from an advanced civilization. Because they are so brief, and likely to be rare, we plan to check large areas of the sky for a long period of time,” said Werthimer, who has been involved with SETI for the past 45 years.

A multi-pixel photon counter detector for optical and near-infrared wavelengths.
Credit: UCSD OIR Laboratory


Likelihood of detection?

But how likely is it that scientists will detect extraterrestrial signals with PANOSETI? UC San Diego astronomer Shelley Wright adds:

“The short and correct answer is we have no idea on the likelihood of detection,” Wright said. “With PANOSETI we will be observing an unexplored phase space for SETI and astronomical observations. Our goal is to make the first dedicated SETI observatory that is capable of observing the entire visible sky all of the time.”

Credit: UCSD OIR Laboratory

Final design

PANOSETI began development in 2018, aiming to create a dedicated optical SETI observatory to image the entire observable sky—approximately 10,000 square degrees—instantaneously. The final project plans to generate hundreds of telescopes to achieve this enormous sky coverage.

PANOSETI’s final design will feature a dedicated observatory at each of two locations. Each observatory will contain 80 of these unique telescopes. Site selection is underway, and the research team hopes to begin observatory construction in the next year.

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