SETI in ITALY
The international scientific community has created a Bioastronomy international group that has planned a large scale research programme. This interdisciplinary group is aiming to study:
The discovery of prebiotic molecules (basic for life) in the interstellar medium and of several planets orbiting around other stars has stimulated a new enthusiasm towards Bioastronomy. In particular, the search for artificial radio signals coming from extraterrestrial civilizations has received more attention. This programme goes under the name of SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence): it was born at NASA back in the '70s and it is now carried out, being called Phoenix, by the Seti Institute. This is an Institute that relies on the economic contributions of private donors and of several hi-tech industries situated in the Silicon Valley (Ca), where the Institute itself is located.
The detection of these extremely weak radio signals needs very sophisticated digital spectrum-analysers like the one that we use, SERENDIP IV (fig.1). This system is connected to the big antennas used in Radioastronomy like the VLBI antenna located in Medicina -Italy (fig.2).
Fig. 1: The SERENDIP IV System.
Fig. 2: The 32m antenna in Medicina (Italy).
At present the radio signal that is being looked for is a monochromatic one, which means it is one that is made up of a single frequency (radio carrier). If anybody out there wants to be "heard" they would probably use that kind of signal because it's very easy to generate and it can be easily discerned, using a spectrum-analyser, from the many broadband signals of natural origin coming from space. Radio telescopes are huge and expensive devices, and as a consequence the observing time allowed to any programme turns out to have a high cost. Since the SETI has a very low probability of leading to a positive result, it would not be cost-efficient or the best use of resources to dedicate observing time exclusively to one type of experiment.
present it is paired to the 32 m VLBI antenna, but in the future it'll
be connected to the Northern Cross telescope too, because the latter has
dimensions of 600x600m and its collecting surface of 30,000 square metres
it represents one of the largest antennas in Europe. A great feature that
distinguishes the SERENDIP IV system from others is its capability to
work in piggyback mode; this means that it works in parallel with other
radio astronomy observations while at the same time avoiding dedicating
time to just one experiment. Since we don't know where to point our antenna
and which frequency to be tuned to it seems reasonable to choose the targets
randomly, and process them using SERENDIP IV utilizing the signals coming
from other experiments conducted by various astronomers using the antenna.