Amateur Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence
ABSTRACT:  Of all the extra-terrestrial intelligences (ETIs) with Kepler-like systems only those in the direction of our ecliptic know that our sun has a solar system including an Earth-size planet in the habitable zone (HZ). Therefore, if some fraction of ETIs try to communicate with known Earth-size HZ planets we would be targeted by only those in the direction of our ecliptic. SETI projects should therefore concentrate their search on the ecliptic. The professional project "Optical SETI" (at Harvard) targets solar-like stars, regardless of ecliptic latitude, and is based on the assumption that pulsed lasers will be used to attract our attention. This web site describes an amateur counterpart that endeavors to detect brief light flashes confirmed to be extraterrestrial in origin by amateur observations of target regions along the ecliptic.
BACKGROUND: SETI began at radio wavelengths in the 1960's with an emphasis on frequencies near 1420 MHz (neutral hydrogen line). In 1998 an Optical SETI search began at Harvard. In 2001 a second telescope nearby was used to verify simultaneity of very brief flashes from selected stars. Photomultiplier tubes are used to search for coincidences at nanosecond timescales. A few interesting "hits" have been recorded, but they lack an expected repeating pattern. Radio searches continue at Hat Creek, CA with the Allen Telescope Array (0.5 to 11 GHz). As far as I've been able to determine none of the radio or optical SETI projects emphasize the ecliptic as a favored search direction, although this has been suggested by Kilston et al (2008). The A-SETI project is a "poor man's" amateur attempt to give the ecliptic its overdue attention. It must be said, however, that without millisecond resolution any search strategy is assuming that the transmitting civilization is more advanced than an optimistic projection that can be envisioned today. But hey, maybe capability that can be envisioned today is too limiting a vision, and another 3 or 4 orders of magnitude in pulse power is possible.

RATIONALE: Essentially all known exoplanets were discovered using either the radial velocity (RV) method or the transit method. RV observations have a limitation on the number of stars that can be searched that is orders of magnitude less favorable than for transit observations. Therefore, the number of known solar systems discovered using transits will always be orders of magnitude greater than the number discovered using RV. I assume the same will be true for all ETIs. Most of the stars that are within reach of a Kepler type observing system are in directions of the Milky Way (note: Kepler's "range" of 3000 ly > galaxy thickness of 1000 ly). Therefore, the best two locations for SETI are in the directions of the intersection of the ecliptic and the galactic plane. One of these is close to the galactic center (best observed by SH observers in their winter) and the other is in the opposite direction, in the constellation Taurus (best observed by NH observers in our winter). The Taurus intersection is the first of A-SETI's four targets. The second target is the galactic anti-center, which happens to be located near the first target. The third target is a "moving target" because it is that spot along the ecliptic that transits at local midnight. The fourth target is the Andromeda Galaxy (where I detected a suspicious "star" in one of a sequence of images; link below). For the Andromeda Galaxy target we won't expect to see any stars at the location of events because they will be too faint. For the other targets (all in or galaxy) we may see a star at the location of the event; it all depends on how far away it is and its absolute magnitude. Dwarf stars (M dwarf, brown dwarf and white dwarf) are intrinsically faint so they won't be seen in the non-event images unless they're really close by.

OBSERVING STRATEGY: There are two modes for A-SETI observing: 1) single observer, defocused, and 2) observer pairs, sharp focus, coordinated in time and FOV. The single observer, defocused mode won't be as sensitive, but it will permit any observer to observer whenever skies are clear regardless of the availability of a similar longitude paired observer. The purpose for defocused observing is to easily remove any doubt that the appearance of a star in one image is due to a star-like object instead of a cosmic ray defect. An example of a defocused image is at this link. Initially there will be two observer groups, one centered in Europe and the other in the United States. This web page will specify the "Current Target" so that all observers will have overlapping FOVs for comparison of any suspicious hits. A list of volunteer observers will be maintained at this web site to facilitate coordinating the pairing of observations. A list of suspicious hits will also be maintained so that those interested in follow-up observations may target one of the suspicious hit coordinates.

OBSERVER COORDINATORS: The European A-SETI coordinator will be Joao Gregorio (ct1fgv at gmail dot com). The USA coordinator will be Bruce Gary (a-seti at brucegary dot net). I'm Bruce Gary, and I'm this web page's webmaster; I will maintain an archive of relevant observations on this web page. Observers are welcome to simply observe the "current target" (or any target) any time without coordinating with others, but if you want the option of comparing suspicious hits with others you will want to observe the "current target" and also initiate an e-mail coordination with other observers prior to observing. The regional observing coordinators can be contacted for help with specific observing questions (binning, filters, exposure times, etc), help in finding observer partners and help with evaluating the significance of suspicious events. Reports of any interesting event are to be sent to your regional coordinator (as described below).

Target A: 05:57:04 +23:26:20 (J2000), intersection of ecliptic with galactic plane. 
Target B: 05:45:40 +29:00:28 (J2000), galactic anti-center.                                                    1st priority.
Target C: 08:12:00 +30:40:00 (J2000), January's local midnight ecliptic transit location.
Target D: 00:43:17 +41:16:42 (J2000), Andromeda Galaxy (6 'arc ENE of M31 center)

Bruce Gary, Arizona (a-seti at brucegary dot net)
Joe Garlitz, Oregon (garlitzj at eoni dot com)

Joao Gregorio, Portugal (ct1fg at gmail dot com)

GOOD PRACTICES:  I recommend the following image calibration sequence: 1) bias, dark and flat field the image set, 2) repair hot pixels (using 25% threshold), 3) star align (for MaxIm DL users, select "Auto - star matching"), 4) visually inspect an "animation" of the image set, looking for star-like appearances (i.e., disregarding obvious cosmic ray artifacts). I recommend doing this for groups of maybe 20 images at a time; with many more you get confused about whether you've seen the entire sequence for an area of your FOV. So far I prefer unfiltered, binning 2x2 and exposing for 30 seconds.

If you think one of your images has a flare event it should be reported to either Joao or Bruce as a zipped file including the following FITS images: raw (uncalibrated) image for the event and images both preceding and following the event image, master bias, dark and flat images. If we verify that the event is not an obvious cosmic ray artifact (based on PSF) then it will be entered into the archive web page for "Interesting Events" at this web site. Others who observed the same FOV at the same time can check their images for an event coincidence check.

DISCRETION: Just because professional astronomers will be dismissive of this project doesn't mean that newspaper reporters would have the same disregard for any reported "events." So, in consideration of the reality that it is very unlikely that we will ever detect an ETI flare event, we ask that you refrain from contacting anyone from the press concerning any of your observations for this project. All observers asking to be included on this project's observer list will be asked to abide by this rule.

See link.

1) 2001.08.23, 00:43:16 +41:16:30 (M31), Gary, link: http://reductionism.net.seanic.net/brucegary1/AstroPhotos/M31_MO/M31_MO.html
2) 2009.01.17, 01:05:17 +11:00:02, b=3.5, Garlitz, link: http://brucegary.net/A-SETI/data/20090117Garlitz.html

NEW DIRECTIONS: I encourage observers to explore other observing strategies and hardware configurations for this task. Tom Kaye has suggested using video cameras, DSLR cameras in movie mode and even use of a software program used for detecting fireballs. It's possible that the laser flashes we're looking for will be very brief, perhaps even shorter than a millisecond, so any observing method that's matched for very short flashes should be considered. Please share with this project any results, or lessons learned, from such experiments.

Harvard's Optical SETI: http://seti.harvard.edu/oseti/
Allen Telescope Array: http://www.seti.org/ata
Kilston et al, 2008: http://henry.pha.jhu.edu/poster.SETI.pdf & http://henry.pha.jhu.edu/abscicon.html
Observing tips book: http://brucegary.net/book_EOA/x.htm

CURRENT STATUS OF A-SETI:  Due to lack of interest from the amateurs who were invited to join this project it has been downgraded to the status of informal observing and reporting. If anyone reaching this web page, through Googling for example, is motivated to participate, you may e-mail Joao Gregorio (if you're in Europe) or Bruce Gary (if you're in the USA) to inquire about arranging for a partner for a trial observation, or for sharing defocused observations. Keep in mind, though, that the probability of success is judged to be very low.

WebMaster: Bruce Gary.  This site opened:  2013.01.23 Last Update:  2013.03.06   BGary web sites