Search for space life takes aim at specific planets

Using NASA Kepler space telescope images, SETI group to hone in on 86 possible life-supporting planets

In the past the SETI@Home group has blasted radio waves throughout a wide swath of space looking to perhaps serendipitously come across alien communications.  But a new University of California, Berkeley project will aim the world's largest radio telescope at 86 planetary systems recently discovered by NASA's super-space telescope Kepler in an effort to detects signs of extraterrestrial communications.

According to UC Berkeley, the 86 stars were chosen from the 1,235 candidate planetary systems - spotted by Kepler so far, called Kepler Objects of Interest or KOIs.  UC Berkeley's targets include the 54 KOIs identified by the Kepler team as being in the habitable temperature range and with sizes ranging from Earth-size to larger than Jupiter; 10 KOIs not on the Kepler team's habitable list but with orbits less than three times Earth's orbit and orbital periods greater than 50 days; and all systems with four or more possible planets.

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After the Green Bank telescope has targeted each star, it will scan the entire Kepler field for signals from planets other than the 86 targets, the group stated. According to the astronomers, the new search began this month, when the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope dedicated an hour to eight stars with possible planets. Once UC Berkeley astronomers acquire 24 hours of data on a total of 86 Earth-like planets, they'll initiate a coarse analysis and then, in about two months, ask an estimated 1 million SETI@home users to conduct a more detailed analysis on their home computers, the group stated.

"We've picked out the planets with nice temperatures - between zero and 100 degrees Celsius - because they are a lot more likely to harbor life," said physicist Dan Werthimer, chief scientist for SETI@home

UC Berkeley also noted that Werthimer conducted a brief SETI project using the Allen Telescope Array (ATA), which hosted a broader search for intelligent signals from space run by the SETI Institute of Mountain View, Calif. The SETI Institute's search ended last month when the ATA went into hibernation mode after the institute and UC Berkeley ran out of money to operate it.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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