In this series of videos, hear from the SETI Hackathon and Code Challenge experts. The contest is designed to test data scientists and developers on their ability to write signal-identifying algorithms with the help of radio astronomers and IBM PowerAI platforms and the Watson Data Science Experience environment.
Jill Tarter: Life beyond Earth
Co-founder of the SETI Institute Jill Tarter explains that she doesn’t think Craig Venter and Francis Collins were bold enough when they postulated that the “20th century was the century of physics; the 21st will be the century of biology.” Jill says,
“I think the 21st century is going to be the century of biology on Earth … and beyond.”
Jill believes this is the century when we’re going to know if there is life on other planets. She explains the different ways we could learn about the existence of extraterrestrial neighbors.
Jon Richards: Searching through the noise
Jon Richards, SETI Operator and an electrical engineer, explains the Allen Telescope Array, a “Large Number of Small Dishes” (LNSD) array designed to be highly effective for simultaneous surveys undertaken for SETI projects at centimeter wavelengths. The ATA is named for a major investor in the project, Microsoft’s Paul Allen. The ATA is a departure from traditional radio telescopes in that it uses commercial parts for its construction and could be said to be reconfigurable (you can change out technology when new comes available) and scalable (you want more sensitivity, you add more dishes). He demonstrates the signal data the ATA deals with.
Kyle Buckingham: Meet the analysis tools
Amateur Astronomer and Software Engineer/Data Scientist (and hackathon competitor) Kyle Buckingham explains how he built a three-meter radio telescope in his Seattle backyard because he didn’t want to miss out on astronomy (too many clouds), then talks about what the challenge provided him – namely, exposure to analytics methods and data science tools.
Dan Werthimer: Greater reach brings greater knowledge
Dan Werthimer is co-founder and chief scientist of the SETI@home project and he directs other UC Berkeley SETI searches at radio, infrared, and visible wavelengths. He opens his talk with an emphasis on the need to incorporate machine- and deep-learning capabilities, as well as AI modules, into open source data analysis software. His presentation encapsulates the latest data from two projects – SETI@home and Breakthrough Listen – in the search for ET in hopes that it will inspire the participants to create algorithms to enhance the Berkeley projects. Breakthrough Listen is the search project and SETI@home is the “croudsourced” signal analysis part of the effort.
Gerry Harp: Diving into the physics of signals
Physicist and Director of Research at SETI, Gerry Harp takes the participants down into some of the code used currently to tease signals out of noisy data. As an example, Gerry explains why we look for sine waves when searching for non-natural signals:
“Nature produces narrow-bandwidth signals, like in the microwave laser, maser, frequency, but they never get narrower than that, so when we see a signal that’s one hertz wide, we go ‘hmmm … that’s interesting’.”
Sine waves are important in physics because it is the only wave to retain its shape when added to another sine wave of the same frequency and arbitrary phase and magnitude. This makes it critical to Fourier analysis (which Gerry also demonstrates how to apply).