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Analysis of the First Kepler SETI Observations

Example of signals KOI 817 and KOI 812. Credit: The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence at UC Berkeley

As the Kepler space telescope begins finding its first Earth-sized exoplanets, with the ultimate goal of finding ones that are actually Earth-like, it would seem natural that the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) program would take a look at them as well, in the continuing search for alien radio signals. That is exactly what SETI scientists are doing, and they’ve started releasing some of their preliminary results.

They are processing the data taken by Kepler since early 2011; some interesting signals have been found (a candidate signal is referred to as a Kepler Object of Interest or KOI), but as they are quick to point out, these signals so far can all be explained by terrestrial interference. If a single signal comes from multiple positions in the sky, as these ones do, it is most likely to be interference.

They do, however, also share characteristics which would be expected of alien artificial signals.

A couple of examples are from KOI 817 and KOI 812. They are of a very narrow frequency, as would be expected from a signal of artificial origin. They also change in frequency over time, due to the doppler effect – the motion of the alien signal source relative to the radio telescope on Earth. If a signal is found with these characteristics but also does not appear to be just interference, that would be a good candidate for an actual artificial signal of extraterrestrial origin.

These are only the results of the first observations and many more will come during the next weeks and months.

Looking for signals has always been like looking for a needle in the cosmic haystack; until now we were searching pretty much blind, starting even before we knew if there were any other planets out there or not. What if our solar system was the only one? Now we know that it is only one of many, with new estimates of billions of planets in our galaxy alone, based on early Kepler data. Plus the fact that the majority of those are thought to be smaller, rocky worlds like Earth, Mars, etc. How many of them are actually habitable is still an open question, but finding them narrows down the search, providing more probable actual targets to turn the radio telescopes toward instead of just trying to search billions of stars overall.

All twelve signal examples so far can be downloaded here (PDF).

About 

Paul Scott Anderson is a freelance space writer with a life-long passion for space exploration and astronomy and has been a long-time member of The Planetary Society. He currently writes for Universe Today and Examiner.com. His own blog The Meridiani Journal is a chronicle of planetary exploration.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anonymous January 6, 2012, 7:07 PM

    I am all for people searching but I have my doubts they will ever find anything.

    It isn’t that I don’t believe in life (intelligent or otherwise) in the Universe. I do believe life exists elsewhere. I just believe it is a biased view to think they use radio to communicate.

    Just because we do CURRENTLY doesn’t mean they will. We’ve only been using radio for the last hundred years and who is to say how long it will take to utilize a more efficient means (say quantum entanglement)??

    I just don’t think they will find anything but I sincerely hope to be proven wrong.

  • Anonymous January 6, 2012, 7:07 PM

    I am all for people searching but I have my doubts they will ever find anything.

    It isn’t that I don’t believe in life (intelligent or otherwise) in the Universe. I do believe life exists elsewhere. I just believe it is a biased view to think they use radio to communicate.

    Just because we do CURRENTLY doesn’t mean they will. We’ve only been using radio for the last hundred years and who is to say how long it will take to utilize a more efficient means (say quantum entanglement)??

    I just don’t think they will find anything but I sincerely hope to be proven wrong.

    • Ivan B January 6, 2012, 7:16 PM

      I think you’re right on all counts. But, you never know until you look. Also, I think quantum entanglement has been ruled out as a means of communication. Someone correct me if I’m wrong

      • Torbjörn Larsson January 6, 2012, 9:11 PM

        It is correct that you can’t use quantum entanglement (QE) for communication. Jonathan May points to a thread where Ken G and others makes the point efficiently. In short, what you have is a correlation between observations, not causality.

        If you could use QE, you would break Lorentz invariance. However quantum mechanics preserves it as known from its special relativity construction of quantum field theory (QFT).

        But you don’t need QFT to check on this. It is the whole point of Bell test experiments, where the different equalities are derived specifically to be special relativity invariant correlations, not causal relations.

        Note that the “strict Einstein locality” requirement is tested to over 30 standard deviations, to my knowledge the best test in physics.* That can be interpreted in many ways of course.

        – If you stick with the spirit of the experiment and naive QM, what happens to preserve relativity or locality is that observables have no existence before the observation.

        – If you want to introduce quantum woo (and the influential Zeilinger likes that, as he is religious and publicly use it as his “gap for gods”, see his seminars), you claim that relativity is broken under QM and you have mysterious “action at a distance”. I don’t know how they square that with the requirements of QFT, where quantization expressly is checked against relativity requirements. (Or so I am told, not having studied QFT.)

        – In the realistic Many World Theory of such theoretical physicists like Sean Carroll, you preserve both locality and reality by having entangled observables live in many worlds.

        ——————
        * Interestingly the best test in science is in biology, due to its complex process of evolution.

        A tree structure of related species or traits or genes (phylogenies) can’t be resolved very well but only sufficiently in most cases even with many species/traits/genes. But the combinatorial explosion of possible variants as a tree grows admit some very powerful tests in some cases.

        Such a case is the existence of Universal Common Ancestry (UCA), which can be tested to be likelier than having many CAs at the root of the universal tree with a factor of ~ 10^2040. That is roughly some 2000 standard deviations, I believe!

    • Ivan B January 6, 2012, 7:16 PM

      I think you’re right on all counts. But, you never know until you look. Also, I think quantum entanglement has been ruled out as a means of communication. Someone correct me if I’m wrong

    • Ivan B January 6, 2012, 7:16 PM

      I think you’re right on all counts. But, you never know until you look. Also, I think quantum entanglement has been ruled out as a means of communication. Someone correct me if I’m wrong

    • Ivan B January 6, 2012, 7:16 PM

      I think you’re right on all counts. But, you never know until you look. Also, I think quantum entanglement has been ruled out as a means of communication. Someone correct me if I’m wrong

    • Anonymous January 6, 2012, 7:38 PM

      I agree. Of course, you always have to keep in mind a relevant point on this — if you look, you might not find anything … if you don’t look, you are sure to not find anything.

    • Severin January 6, 2012, 7:40 PM

      Even if the odds are against finding anything doesnt mean that there’s no point to keep searching. If extraterrestials uses a more advanced technology to communicate, then most likely they’ve once used such a primitive communication medium as radio during their lifespan. You gotta start with A to get to B right?

      Who says they wont be listening with different types of mediums to search for extraterrestrials aswell, asuming that we or someone else might not be as technologialy advanced as them?

      It might take SETI a century to come up with any kind of results, but even so, I think its better to look for the answer instead of just assuming there’s nothing there

  • Anonymous January 6, 2012, 7:07 PM

    I am all for people searching but I have my doubts they will ever find anything.

    It isn’t that I don’t believe in life (intelligent or otherwise) in the Universe. I do believe life exists elsewhere. I just believe it is a biased view to think they use radio to communicate.

    Just because we do CURRENTLY doesn’t mean they will. We’ve only been using radio for the last hundred years and who is to say how long it will take to utilize a more efficient means (say quantum entanglement)??

    I just don’t think they will find anything but I sincerely hope to be proven wrong.

  • Anonymous January 6, 2012, 7:07 PM

    I am all for people searching but I have my doubts they will ever find anything.

    It isn’t that I don’t believe in life (intelligent or otherwise) in the Universe. I do believe life exists elsewhere. I just believe it is a biased view to think they use radio to communicate.

    Just because we do CURRENTLY doesn’t mean they will. We’ve only been using radio for the last hundred years and who is to say how long it will take to utilize a more efficient means (say quantum entanglement)??

    I just don’t think they will find anything but I sincerely hope to be proven wrong.

  • Jonathan May January 6, 2012, 8:09 PM

    Why quantum entanglement does not allow for faster than light communication: http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=231008

    • Anonymous January 7, 2012, 12:23 AM

      Wow, I read that whole discussion on impossible FTL communication via QE and can’t say I understood a thing. Some Dutch fellow was inserting random questions concerning random information which just confused things and the rest couldn’t seem to speak in such a way as to make Me anyway, understand. The only way I can see FTL communication through QE is to be able to manipulate the say, photons AFTER they have been separated such that across any distance, one can see that the other is alternating polarities in say, morse code! How’s that for going classical with the new?

  • Anonymous January 6, 2012, 9:02 PM

    Keep us posted, Mr. Anderson.

    • Kev Girard January 6, 2012, 10:39 PM

      Awesome Matrix reference (even if it wasn’t intended).

  • Anonymous January 7, 2012, 10:49 PM

    Let’s consider things from another perspective – that of a KOI planet. If intelligent lifeforms inhabit such a planet and it is within 100 light-years of Earth and they “do” radio, then they should now be receiving our communications. Maybe the SETI project on KOI 316 has been labelled a great success because they’ve identified other intelligence in the universe. Now what? Well, if they are within 50 light-years of Earth, their reply to us should have already arrived or maybe it will tomorrow. Keep looking. On the other hand, maybe their starfleet’s on the way…

  • Anonymous January 9, 2012, 3:00 AM

    Simply because we don’t detect radio signals doesn’t mean ET’s don’t exist, they could be using other ways to communicate. Consider this:

    July 29, 1952 USAF orders pilots to “shoot down” flying saucers over whitehouse, do a google search for “air force flying saucers shoot”

    July 28, 1952 USAF admits that they have detected what appear to be “flying saucers” on radar and that they might be spacecraft from other planets. Go to google news ARCHIVE search for “air force orders saucers merry” click search, it will at first say nothing found, but on the “nothing found” page go to the lower right hand column and click archives.

    April 7, 1952 LIFE magazine in cooperation with the USAF makes the case for ET visitation, do a google search for “April 7, 1952 LIFE magazine google” page 80

    March 3, 1989 Shuttle Discovery astronaut radios to Houston “we have the Alien Spacecraft under observance” Do a youtube search for “Prove che gli astronauti” (an Italian speaking person uploaded the video”

    There is more!!

  • Anonymous January 9, 2012, 3:07 AM

    Some people, may focus on the fact that according to currently accepted human science Faster than light communications is not allowed. We must remember that our science is not complete, we do not have a quantum theory of gravity, nor do we have a unified theory. If we did have a quantum theory of gravity it could tell us whether or not it is possible to bend space so as to shrink the effective distance between two very distant points.

    Also, if ET exist (which there is very strong indications that they do) they may be far more advanced and may have explored physics at energies higher than current humans have explored and may have discovered physics which we are currently unaware.

    • Oscar Costa January 9, 2012, 1:02 PM

      Couldn’t quantum entanglement in theory be used as a manner of communication? If so it would be possible to communicate instantly no matter the distance.

      Having said that I don’t fully understand the process so I may be saying something awfully wrong.

      • Anonymous January 9, 2012, 3:09 PM

        No, quantum entanglement can’t be used as a communication system that is faster than light. If we get a blog entry on quantum issues I might go into greater detail. However, in a nutshell suppose you have Alice and Bob with an entangled pair. Alice orients her apparatus in some way and performs a measurement and then orients an ancillary state with these outcomes. Bob, wants to do the same, but needs the apparatus configuration Alice used. That must be communicated by a classical signal along a light ray (light cone).

        Entanglement does not permit one to skirt the limitations of light speed and that information can only be communicated at a velocity v <= c.

        LC

        • Anonymous January 9, 2012, 4:00 PM

          I’m not sure you’ve given us anything to base “with these outcomes” on Icro. Makes for a messy explanation. Also, if she has an entangled photon in Paris, and Bob’s is in New York and she changes the polarity of hers, then won’t Bob’s also change polarity? The negativity of that change means that she will not be joining him for dinner…hence communication.

          • Anonymous January 9, 2012, 4:27 PM

            An entanglement only connects randomness in a nonlocal fashion. In order to teleport a state or qubit with entanglement you must transfer that entanglement to an ancillary state and then Alice must communicate to Bob the eigenbasis chosen for this procedure.

            Maybe if the demand is great enough I will try to write more on this, or wait until a blog entry is written here which involves quantum physics. Also I might have to resort to quantum “bra-ket” notation and the use of Hadamard matrices to make it precise. The problem is that quantum mechanics is just plain weird with respect to our ordinary experience of things. Feynman said that nobody understands quantum mechanics. On some deep level that is the case, and it is certainly the case that any attempt to understand quantum mechanics according to our ordinary experience of reality is bound to fail.

            LC

        • Anonymous January 9, 2012, 4:00 PM

          I’m not sure you’ve given us anything to base “with these outcomes” on Icro. Makes for a messy explanation. Also, if she has an entangled photon in Paris, and Bob’s is in New York and she changes the polarity of hers, then won’t Bob’s also change polarity? The negativity of that change means that she will not be joining him for dinner…hence communication.

      • Anonymous January 9, 2012, 3:09 PM

        No, quantum entanglement can’t be used as a communication system that is faster than light. If we get a blog entry on quantum issues I might go into greater detail. However, in a nutshell suppose you have Alice and Bob with an entangled pair. Alice orients her apparatus in some way and performs a measurement and then orients an ancillary state with these outcomes. Bob, wants to do the same, but needs the apparatus configuration Alice used. That must be communicated by a classical signal along a light ray (light cone).

        Entanglement does not permit one to skirt the limitations of light speed and that information can only be communicated at a velocity v <= c.

        LC

    • Torbjörn Larsson January 9, 2012, 6:59 PM

      Just because there are phenomena we don’t understand, just because there are changes in observations, facts and theories, doesn’t mean we don’t know things quite firmly. The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Are Completely Understood.

      Ftl is one of those things, where not only would it change all of physics as we now know it, it breaks all sorts of no go results. There are classical paradoxes with ftl particles and wormholes, ftl destabilizes lightcones so both gauge particle theories and general relativity in one fell swoop, et many cetera.

      Ftl means time travel of sorts. My favorite here is computer scientist Aaronsson’s note, that time travel computing explodes the algorithmic tower of complexity, so all of physics becomes equally simple. That, or the Church-Turing theorem is invalid, in which case everything we know about computing systems and their physics is wrong. Since none of that has happened, time travel can’t be.

      if ET exist (which there is very strong indications that they do)

      We have no such indications whatsoever.

      We have strong reasons, in my judgment, to believe biospheres are easy to come by.

      So we have ET.

      However most biologists would claim that the pathway to intelligence and especially technological intelligence is a one off unlikely trait. Akin to finding the elephant trunk evolved, which has happened only once.

      So we don’t have ETI near enough for communication, according to them.

      • Anonymous January 9, 2012, 8:13 PM

        Though it may be true that we know “everyday physics” quite firmly, the same cannot be said of physics which is not within our everyday realm. Simply because there are “apparent” paradoxes with FTL does not mean it doesn’t exist, FTL is outside of our everyday realm AND pushes our current theories of physics to its limits. For any theory that we use to calculate the effects of FTL is subject to the limitations imposed by our current lack of understanding of Quantum Gravity:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unsolved_problems_in_physics#Quantum_gravity.2C_cosmology.2C_and_general_relativity

        Second simply because we have “apparent” paradoxes doesn’t mean the phenomena is not possible. There are “apparent” paradoxes in Quantum Mechanics, wave-particle duality, strange results in measurements, particles able to tunnel out of wells having energies less than the height of the well. According to a classical interpretation, these are paradoxes, but they are allowed in QM because our classical concept of the world itself is limited. The same MAY (note the word) be true of FTL, without a complete theory of Quantum Gravity, we cannot say yes or no to FTL travel.

        There are many schemes for “time travel”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_travel#In_physics

        There are many strong indications of non-human intelligence

        July 29, 1952 USAF orders pilots to “shoot down” flying saucers over whitehouse, do a google search for “air force flying saucers shoot”

        July 28, 1952 USAF admits that they have detected what appear to be “flying saucers” on radar and that they might be spacecraft from other planets. Go to google news ARCHIVE search for “air force orders saucers merry” click search, it will at first say nothing found, but on the “nothing found” page go to the lower right hand column and click archives.

        April 7, 1952 LIFE magazine in cooperation with the USAF makes the case for ET visitation, do a google search for “April 7, 1952 LIFE magazine google” page 80

        March 3, 1989 Shuttle Discovery astronaut radios to Houston “we have the Alien Spacecraft under observance” Do a youtube search for “Prove che gli astronauti” (an Italian speaking person uploaded the video)

        Project Blue Book (a scientific study of UFO by the US government) indicated that of all the UFO cases they studied about 22% were unexplained AND the more information they received of those 22% the LESS they were able to be explained.

        There is much much more.

        Simply because biologists say intelligence is an unlikely trait does not prove that it cannot exist outside of earth, it is simply a statistical inference, NOT proof.

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