Project Ozma

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Project Ozma

Post by BooBoo on Mon Apr 11, 2016 4:05 pm

Project Ozma was a pioneering SETI experiment started in 1960 by Cornell University astronomer Frank Drake, at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank, West Virginia. The object of the experiment was to search for signs of life in distant planetary systems through interstellar radio waves.The program was named after Princess Ozma, ruler of the fictional land of Oz, inspired by L. Frank Baum's supposed communication with Oz by radio to learn of the events in the books taking place after The Emerald City of Oz. The search was publicized in articles in the popular media of the time, such as Time magazine.

*The Wonderful Wizard of OZ was first published in 1900*

In 1960, radioastronomer Frank D. Drake, then at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Green Bank, West Virginia, carried out humanity's first attempt to detect interstellar radio transmissions. Project Ozma was named after the queen of L. Frank Baum's imaginary land of Oz -- a place "very far away, difficult to reach, and populated by strange and exotic beings." The stars chosen by Drake for the first SETI search were Tau Ceti in the Constellation Cetus (the Whale) and Epsilon Eridani in the Constellation Eridanus (the River), some eleven light years (66 trillion miles) away. Both stars are about the same age as our sun.From April to July 1960, for six hours a day, Project Ozma's 85-foot NRAO radio telescope was tuned to the 21-centimeter emission (1420 MHz) coming from cold hydrogen gas in interstellar space. A single 100 Hz channel receiver scanned 400 kHz of bandwidth. The astronomers scanned the tapes for a repeated series of uniformly patterned pulses that would indicate an intelligent message or a series of prime numbers such as 1, 2, 3, 5 or 7. With the exception of an early false alarm caused by a secret military experiment, the only sound that came from the loudspeaker was static and no meaningful bumps superimposed themselves on the formless wiggles on the recording paper. After Project Ozma's pioneering steps, systematic searches for the technological manifestations of civilizations on the planets of other stars became a feasible scientific objective.

Parallelism from science fiction books and movies to reality:

"Contact" the Movie
Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster), the heroine of the movie "Contact," finds an alien broadcast in much the same way that Project Phoenix operated. Phoenix was searching for signals from the directions of about 1,000 nearby, sun-like stars. There were other SETI experiments underway, but Project Phoenix was the only systematic targeted search of individual stars, the type of search conducted in the movie. Project Phoenix ran from 1995 - 2004.Much as in the movie, the senior scientist in the search is a female Ph.D. astronomer named Jill Tarter. However, Jodie Foster's character Ellie is not directly based on Jill. "Carl Sagan wrote a book about a woman who does what I do, not about me," explains Tarter. "He did his homework, and thus included many of the character-building' experiences that are common to women scientists studying and working in a male-dominated profession, so Ellie seems very familiar to me. "Another reality-inspired character in the movie is the blind researcher, Kent Clark. Dr. Clark was formerly Director of Research and Development for Project Phoenix, and the leader of its signal detection team is a blind Ph.D. physicist named Kent Cullers. According to Cullers, "An early version of the screenplay included a small part for which I was judged competent enough to play myself. However, as the part expanded, it required the skills of a real actor."

1. Movie Version:
Detection of a radio signal from an extraterrestrial technological civilization is made at the Very Large Array (VLA), in New Mexico, after Ellie's experiment in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, is shut down by myopic bureaucrats.

Reality Version:
Despite having 27 antennas, the VLA is four times smaller in collecting area than Arecibo. It is therefore less sensitive, and less suitable for SETI. In addition, use of the VLA would require 27 copies of our receiving system, a formidably expensive proposition! Of course, there's no denying that the VLA is very photogenic.

2.Movie Version:
When her SETI project is shut down, Ellie turns to a Howard Hughes-like private donor to continue the search.

Reality Version:
When Senator Richard Bryan of Nevada amended the NASA appropriation bill of 1994 to kill SETI, the SETI Institute had to seek private funding. Today the SETI Institute is actively involved in trying to establish a $100 million endowment to ensure that the searching can continue as long as necessary.

3.Movie Version:
Ellie detects aliens on the airwaves while listening with earphones.

Reality Version:
Project Phoenix examines 28 million channels simultaneously. Instead, computers scan for signals, and only alert the astronomers when interesting ones appear.

4.Movie Version:
When Ellie stylishly suits up for the White House press conference (only to be upstaged by Drumlin), she is wearing an attractive blue and white pin with a telescope logo.

Reality Version:
In fact, Ellie is wearing one of our SETI Institute pins. Those of you with really good eyesight may have seen the NASA HRMS pin in the lapel of Fish's suit during the Arecibo party scene. Thanks to Senator Bryan, those are no longer available.

Despite such minor quibbles, there's no doubt that "Contact" is indescribably more accurate in its depiction of SETI than any Hollywood film in history.


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