COSMIC: All Very Large Array antennas

image: SETI Institute post-doctoral researchers Dr. Savin Varghese and Dr. Chenoa Tremblay in front of one of the 82-foot-diameter dishes that make up the Very Large Array.
to see Continued

Credit: SETI Institute

April 4, 2022, Mountain View, California – COSMIC SETI (the Commensal Open-Source Multimode Interferometer Cluster Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has taken a big step toward using the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) for 24/7 SETI observations. Fiber optic amplifiers and splitters are now installed for all 27 VLA antennas, giving COSMIC access to a complete and independent copy of the entire VLA’s data streams. Additionally, the COSMIC system used these links to successfully acquire VLA data, and the main focus now is to develop the high-performance Graphical Processing Unit (GPU) code to analyze the data for the possible presence of technosignatures.

COSMIC is a collaboration between the SETI Institute and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which operates the VLA, to bring cutting-edge extraterrestrial intelligence research to the VLA for the first time. As the VLA makes observations, COSMIC will allow scientists at the SETI Institute to access this data to analyze evidence of technosignatures, signs of technology not caused by natural phenomena.

“Having all VLA digital signals available for the COSMIC system is a major milestone, involving close collaboration with the NRAO VLA engineering team to ensure that the addition of COSMIC hardware does not affect the existing VLA infrastructure in any way. “said Jack Hickish, head of digital instrumentation for COSMIC at the SETI Institute. “It is fantastic to have overcome the challenges of prototyping, testing, sourcing and installation – all conducted during both a global pandemic and a shortage of semiconductors – and we are delighted to be able to move on to the next task of processing the many Tb/s of data to which we now have access.

There are several advantages to conducting SETI searches with the VLA:

  • The size of the VLA: Each of the 27 antennas of the VLA are 25 meters in diameter, spread over 22 miles
  • The VLA has a combined collection area equivalent to a single satellite dish 130 meters in diameter
  • Each VLA antenna has 8 cryogenically cooled receivers covering the radio spectrum continuously from 1 to 50 GHz
  • Some receivers can operate below 1 GHz up to 54 MHz, a band used on Earth for television broadcasting

Once operational, it is estimated that COSMIC SETI will observe around 40 million galactic star systems in two years. It will be the most comprehensive SETI observing program undertaken in the northern hemisphere, with high sensitivity and a huge target list.

“I am excited about COSMIC’s ability to conduct the most comprehensive technosignature search ever conducted in the Northern Hemisphere,” said SETI Institute COSMIC project scientist Cherry Ng. “We will be able to monitor millions of stars with a sensitivity high enough to detect an Arecibo-like emitter at a distance of 25 parsecs (81 light-years), covering a range of observation frequencies from 230 MHz to 50 GHz, which includes many parts of the spectrum that have not yet been explored for ETI signals.

The system should be fully operational in early 2023 and will conduct its first major observation campaign alongside the ongoing VLA Sky Survey (VLASS).

“We look forward to partnering with the SETI Institute on this exciting initiative and are excited to see this important milestone in the technical work that will make this new science possible,” said NRAO Director Tony Beasley.

About the SETI Institute

Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute is a nonprofit, multidisciplinary research and education organization whose mission is to lead humanity’s quest to understand the origins and prevalence of life and intelligence in the Universe and to share this knowledge with the world. Our research spans the physical and biological sciences and draws on expertise in data analytics, machine learning and advanced signal detection technologies. The SETI Institute is a distinguished research partner for industry, academia, and government agencies, including NASA and NSF.

Contact information

Rebecca McDonald

Communications Director

SETI Institute

Email: [email protected]


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