Wednesday, May 6, 2009

SETI Institute YouTube Channel

SETI Institute YouTube Channel is now live at

Our most recent lecture videos are now available at SETI Institute's YouTube Channel.

You can subscribe to lecture videos via YouTube or follow me on twitter to get the scoop on video uploads.

Monday, May 4, 2009

04/29/2009 - Experimental determination of the effect of salts, regolith, and wind on the stability of water under Martian conditions

Julie Chittenden

Many fundamental processes on Mars require an understanding of the temperature and pressure conditions at the Martian surface. In particular, the stability of liquid water is a key factor in formation of gully features, and is significant to the possibly for life on Mars. Dr. Chittenden will discuss her experimental work on the stability of water under martian conditions, performed at the University of Arkansas in the Mars planetary simulation chamber. Her results suggests concentrated brine water may remain liquid on the Martian surface longer than previously thought. She will also report the effect of a regolith layer on subsurface ice sublimation and the effect of wind on the stability of surface water ice on Mars.

watch video ( at the SETI Institute Channel from YouTube )

4/22/2009 - First Things in the Universe

Tom Abel, Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology Laboratory, Stanford University

The first structure to form in the Universe can now be predicted from ab initio simulations starting with the known initial conditions of our Universe. What is found is a rich history with massive stars, black holes, UV radiation, and hydrogen molecules among others playing significant roles. Using supercomputer simulations allows us to visually show the origin of the first stars, their demise and impact on their future, which is our past, in the Universe' first billion years.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

04/15/2009 - The Dynamic Lunar Environment

Jasper Halekas, UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory

The lunar environment, serene and unchanging to the naked eye, seethes with plasma and electromagnetic activity. Plasma, photons, micrometeorites and energetic particles constantly bombard the lunar surface, producing a tenuous exosphere and a dynamic wake region, and charging the surface to electrostatic potentials reaching kilovolts, producing surface electric fields large enough to affect lunar ions and dust. Meanwhile, plasma interacts directly with crustal magnetic fields, producing perhaps the smallest magnetospheres in the solar system. Dr. Halekas will talk about how the Moon provides an ideal laboratory to study a variety of fundamental physics processes which are both interesting in their own right, and potentially applicable to Mars and other planets in the solar system.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

4/8/2009 - Convergent evolution of our own and extra-terrestrial intelligence

John McCarthy, Professor Emeritus, Computer Science Stanford University

Convergent evolution is the phenomenon of two or more species of widely different origins evolving extremely similar features in response to the same environmental opportunity. Our intelligence and that of aliens with whom we might communicate are likely to have converged considerably and to converge further in the future. Much of this future convergence is likely to be artificial, i.e. electronic. Professor McCarthy will discuss some possibilities.

play video

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

04/01/2009 - Weathering on Icy Satellites: Probing the Near Surface Using Infrared Spectroscopy

Rachel Mastrapa, NASA Ames Space Sciences Division and SETI Institute

Infrared spectra of icy satellites contain information about the surface composition and the phase state of those materials. For example, the phase of H2O-ice can be used to interpret the temperature and radiation history of an icy surface. Optical constants derived from laboratory data are needed to create model spectra for comparison to observations and may lead to a new understanding of surface processes.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

03/18/2009 - Discovery of Strong Cycles in Fossil Diversity

Richard Muller, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, UC Berkeley

Richard Muller and his collaborators have recently analyzed the most complete record of marine animal fossils ever compiled, the "Compendium" of Jack Sepkoski, which lists all known fossil marine animal genera back 542 million years. When the fossil diversity (number of distinct genera) is plotted, it shows a very strong 62 Myr cycle. The cycle is particularly evident in the species that endured for relatively short times, as shown in the diagram below (published in Nature, vol 434, 208-210, 10 March 2005).

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

03/11/2009 - Tools for Probing the Universe: from the Smallest to Largest and All Scales In Between

Jeffrey Scargle, NASA Ames Space Science Division

Jeff Scargle will describe non-standard data analysis methods for extracting scientific information from time series and other data. Examples include large scale structure in the distribution of galaxies, detection of extrasolar planets, "meta-analysis" of clinical studies and psychic phenomena, variability of Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope sources, and the search for quantum gravity effects at the smallest possible space-time scales.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

03/04/2009 - Google Earth, now with Mars!

Ross A. Beyer, SETI Institute and NASA Ames

Google, Inc., has released Google Earth 5.0 which contains a Mars 3D mode. Working with engineers at Google, we helped collect, parse, and organize the vast store of Mars geospatial data available to the public into a form that could be used by Google Earth. The Mars mode presents data acquired both from orbit and on the surface, presented fully integrated into the Google Earth geospatial browser. Ross will cover a brief history of the project, take you on a detailed tour of all of the features, and answer your questions about using Mars mode for science, education, or fun, as well as answering questions about how to view your own data in the client. The team behind this talk includes NASA Ames engineers Matt Hancher and Michael Broxton.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

02/25/2009 - Interstellar and Early Solar System Organics in Samples from Comet Wild 2

Scott Sandford, NASA Ames Space Science Division

The Stardust mission successfully returned samples from Comet Wild 2 in 2006. Studies of these samples have confirmed the presence of organics, some of which appear to be similar to those found in meteorites and some of which looks unlike anything seen in extraterrestrial materials before. The presence of D and 15N excesses in many of the organics suggests they have an interstellar chemical heritage. The nature of these organics, and their possible relationship to interstellar environments will be discussed.

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02/18/2009 - Multiple Asteroid Systems: New Techniques to Study New Worlds

Franck Marchis, UC Berkeley and the SETI Institute

Since the discovery of Ida’s companion Dactyl in 1993, the number of known multiple asteroids has been continuously increasing and ~165 of them are now known. Since 2003, Dr. Marchis and his colleagues have been conducting a large survey of these interesting and diverse populations using various ground-based telescopes and techniques, such as high angular resolution imaging, lightcurve photometry, and VIS/NIR spectroscopy, and also the Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes. Dr. Marchis ' talk will cover the latest insights into these multiple systems, such as the sizes and shapes of their components, their bulk-density and their orbital parameters, which are key to understanding how they formed and evolved.

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10/29/2008 - Giant Planet Formation

Dr. Jack Lissauer, Space Sciences Division, NASA Ames Research Center

The observed properties of giant planets, models of their evolution, and observations of protoplanetary disks all provide constraints on the formation of gas giant planets. The four largest planets in our Solar System contain considerable quantities of hydrogen and helium, which could not have condensed into solid planetesimals within the protoplanetary disk. The preponderance of evidence supports the core nucleated gas accretion model of formation of the giant planets. According to this model, giant planets begin their growth by the accumulation of small solid bodies, as do terrestrial planets. However, unlike terrestrial planets, the growing giant planet cores become massive enough that they are able to accumulate substantial amounts of gas before the protoplanetary disk dissipates. During this talk, Dr. Lissauer will present the first models of giant planet formation that account for both the planet's internal energy budget and gas flows within the protoplanetary disk.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

01/28/2009 - Surface modifications by winds on Earth, Mars, Venus, and Titan

Ron Greeley, Regent's Professor, Arizona State University

Windblown dunes, ripples, and erosional features are seen on Earth, Venus, and Titan, while on Mars these features are ubiquitous and reflect the dominant agent of surface modification. Although the fundamental process is similar, the environments on these planetary objects are substantially different. Simulations conducted in the Planetary Aeolian Laboratory at NASA-Ames, coupled with field work and modeling, enable analyses of wind-related features and processes on planetary surfaces.

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11/05/2008 - The Allen Telescope Array: A Radio Survey Telescope for the 21st Century

Don Backer and Jill Tarter

Jill Tarter will talk about the large survey SETI observing programs to be undertaken by our in-house team over the next decade, the SETI observing projects from external proposers that have been allocated array time during this current observing period, some recently suggested 'far out' SETI observing strategies (not all relating to the ATA), our first thoughts about beginning OpenSETI, our recent successful demonstrations with SonATA0, and our plans for moving forward towards a Software Defined Radio Telescope (SDRT).

Don Backer will talk about early science with the ATA, which has focused on transient source searches, broad-band spectra of Active Galactic Nuclei objects (AGNs) and diffuse atomic hydrogen in clusters of galaxies. Exploratory observations of the linear polarization of AGNs have been done in a program that will probe intergalactic magnetic fields. A special transient source program was conducted -- the Fly's Eye -- to look for giant pulses from distant galaxies.

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10/22/2008 - MIPSGAL: MIPS/Spitzer Survey of the Galactic Plane

Dr. Sachindev Shenoy

MIPSGAL is a survey of the Galactic plane at 24 and 70 microns using Multiband Imaging Photometer for Spitzer (MIPS) Space Telescope. This is one of the most sensitive survey in the mid-infrared of our Galactic plane. In this talk, Dr. Shenoy shall describe the science requirements, strategies, and data reduction of the survey program. He will outline some of the science topics that can be explored by the community using his team's data. In particular he will talk about the discovery of over 8000 Debris Disk candidates in the Galactic plane using the MIPSGAL 24 micron point source catalog.

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09/24/2008 - Black Holes: End of Time or a New Beginning?

Prof. Roger Blandford, Stanford Linear Accelerator and Physics, Stanford University

Black holes are popularly associated with death and destruction (excluding romances dealing with the redemptive properties of wormholes). However, their conventional astrophysical role is now seen as regenerative and they play a major role in the formation and evolution of galaxies stars and, arguably, organic molecules. Some possible ways in which they may impact the research of the SETI Institute will be discussed and ways in which they may have played a role in the history of our solar system will be briefly discussed.

play video

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

02/05/2008 - The Hunt for Hidden Dimensions

JoAnne Hewett, Professor at SLAC, Stanford University

Extra dimensions of space may be present in our universe. Their discovery would dramatically change our view of the cosmos and would prompt many questions. How do they hide? What is their shape? How many are there? How big are they? Do particles and forces feel their presence? This lecture will explain the concept of dimensions and show that current theoretical models predict the existence of extra spatial dimensions which could be in the discovery reach of present and near-term experiments. The manner by which these additional dimensions reveal their existence will be described.

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01/21/2009 - Roundup at the Kepler Corral: the Race to Detect the First Earth-sized Planet in the Habitable Zone of a Sunlike Star

Dr. Jeffrey Van Cleve, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp

The Kepler Mission is designed to detect transits of Earth-size planets orbiting in the "habitable zone" (HZ) around main-sequence stars of apparent visual magnitude 9 through 14, of F through M spectral type, by means of differential photometry of ~100,000 stars in the constellation Cygnus. Jeff will discuss the box in temperature-diameter space ("The Corral") that Kepler was designed to search, and show the population of extrasolar planets known from ground-based radial velocity and gravitational lensing observations. He will present a calculation of the distance between Earth and the nearest transiting planet likely to be discovered by Kepler, and compare it to results of an all-sky planetary transit survey mission similar to TESS (The TESS PI has commented that "...when starships transporting colonists first depart the solar system, they may well be headed toward a TESS-discovered planet as their new home"). He will end with some speculation on why the end of the nominal Kepler mission coincides with the end of the Mayan calendar (and possibly the end of the world as we know it) on Dec. 21, 2012.

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01/14/2009 - Laboratory Studies of Water Ice Cloud formation under Martian Conditions

Dr. Laura T. Iraci, NASA Ames Research Center

Water ice clouds are an important part of the martian hydrological cycle, influencing the water and energy budgets. Microphysical models can be used to study the connections between cloud formation and water distribution throughout the system (for example, as surface frost layers), but only if the intricacies of cloud formation and growth are understood and properly parameterized. To that end, we have performed laboratory studies of water ice nucleation on a variety of surrogate materials and have found that initiation of ice is more difficult than often presumed. We will report these results, along with preliminary growth rate observations.

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01/07/2009 - Mission to a Potentially Threatening Asteroid

David Morrison, NASA Ames Research Center

Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) are interesting to both planetary scientists and those who are concerned about protecting against their impacts. The first step, now well underway, is to find them (with the Spacegaurd Survey). Next we need to characterize NEAs using small spacecraft missions. We are especially interested in the sub-km NEAs, since they are the most likely to hit the Earth and also the most accessible targets for human flights beyond the Moon. This talk focuses on a low-cost rendezvous mission to NEA Apophis, with the goal of characterizing both the asteroid and its orbit.

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12/03/2008 - The Weather on Mars

David Hinson, SETI Institute

In this talk Dave Hinson will examine the weather on Mars using a combination of radio occultation data and wide-angle images obtained by Mars Global Surveyor during its final year of operation. These complementary observations provide a unique perspective on key atmospheric phenomena such as dust storms and winter weather systems (baroclinic eddies). This investigation is revealing the mechanisms through which eastward-traveling eddies influence both the timing and location of distinctive "flushing" dust storms that occur in the topographic basins of the northern hemisphere.

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11/19/2008 - Some Thoughts from an Anthropologist on Culture, Interstellar Communication, and the Construction of Interstellar Messages

Professor John Traphagan, Departments of Religious Studies and Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin

“Culture” represents one of the most widely used, but often misunderstood, concepts when considering the nature of interactions and communications between different, and mutually alien, groups. Dr. Traphagan will discuss ways of conceptualizing culture from an anthropological perspective and apply his approach to thinking about both the process interstellar message creation and the interpretation of any transmission we might receive. He suggests that directions for future thinking on interstellar message construction should involve not only research on the explicit message intended, but direct consideration of the implicit information that is being conveyed along with the explicit message. Rather than only asking the questions, “What does ET mean in a message?” or “What information do we want to convey in a message from us to ET?” we should also be asking, “What are the implicit indicators and forms of information about ET and ourselves that are contained in any message sent or received?” In many respects, focus on how to interpret implicit information may be more important than how to interpret the explicit message, given the potential differences in culture and biology that might exist between ourselves and an extraterrestrial other, as well as the inevitable differences in personal intentions and interpretations that will be fundamental parts of contact on either side.

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11/12/2008 - How Spaceflight Was Born

Eugene Lally

Lally was involved with the space program from the beginning in the United States starting in 1955, before Sputnik. Eugene worked with key people from Peenemunde and JPL and contributed many pioneering concepts when he was referred to as a Rocket Scientist. Eugene was considered a driving technical force and helped promote spaceflight through many papers delivered at American Rocket Society conventions. Eugene will discuss his personal story of the people and ideas (he worked with) that bought spaceflight out of the cradle and into reality.

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09/10/2008 - Science in my life, and the unpredictability of discovery

Professor Charles Townes, UC Berkeley (1964 Nobel Prize winner for Physics for the invention of the laser)

Professor Townes is the 1964 Nobel prize winner for fundamental work in the field of quantum electronics, which has led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle. He is a former member of the SETI Institute board. His presentation will focus on the fact that many of the most important discoveries have been unpredicted surprises, hence we need to search intensely and hopefully. He will illustrate this with his own personal history, and other interesting examples that he knows well.

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08/27/2008 - Exploring the Extreme Universe with GLAST

Professor Lynn Cominsky, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Sonoma State University

NASA's Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) mission was launched into orbit on June 11, 2008. GLAST's mission is to explore the most energetic and exotic objects in the cosmos: blazing galaxies, intense stellar explosions and super-massive black holes. All the instruments on board are working well, and details of the hardware for Large Area Telescope and the GLAST Burst Monitor are described, along with opportunities for ground-based astronomers to get involved with GLAST. Professor Cominsky will present the first exciting results from the mission.

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08/20/2008 - The Advanced Studies Laboratory - A unique linkage between UCSC and NASA Ames

Dr. Rosalind Grymes, UC Santa Cruz and NASA Ames Advanced Studies Laboratory

Dr. Rose Grymes is the inaugural director of the Advanced Studies Laboratory (ASL), a NASA Ames and UC Santa Cruz strategic partnership created last year and currently based in Building 239 of NASA Ames. The ASL is developing a shared-use, open-access environment and engages projects as Affiliates which join the ASL consortium. The current membership, eight Affiliates, has focal interests linking advanced materials science and technology to planetary exploration, particularly astrobiology. In this presentation, Rose will describe the founding ideals and operational strategy of the new laboratory and the hopes for its future.

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07/16/2008 - Creation and Destruction of Continental Crust at Subduction Zones

Eli Silver, UC Santa Cruz, Earth and Planetary Sciences

Dr. Eli Silver of UC Santa Cruz will outline some of the latest research on plate tectonics. Presently, continental crust is being created in subduction zone settings (sites where tectonic plates converge) such as the Aleutians and Sumatra, due to both magmatic addition to the crust and to tectonic off-scraping. Other subduction zones (Central America, Tonga, Mariana, Peru, northern Chile, northern Japan, Kuriles) are undergoing crustal destruction through the process of subduction erosion. Global estimates indicate thmagmatic addition plus sediment accretion slightly exceeds the combined rates of subductionat erosion and sediment subduction, leaving the Earth slightly positive in terms of the growth of continental crust.

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07/09/2008 - People and Automation: Implications for Long Duration Lunar and Planetary Exploration

Jessica Marquez, NASA Ames Research Center

Future long duration lunar and planetary missions will require that astronauts leverage automated systems to a far greater extent than has ever been experienced. Dr. Jessica Marquez will outline the latest research on automated mobility systems that future astronauts will need and potential pitfalls that may be encountered if too much automation is used.

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07/02/2008 - An Electromagnetic Sounder to Detect Subsurface Liquid Water on Mars: Field Test Results

Greg Delory, Space Sciences Laboratory, UC Berkeley

Passive, low frequency electromagnetic soundings of the subsurface can identify salinated liquid water at depths ranging from tens of meters to ~10km in an environment such as Mars. With support from NASA planetary and Mars instrument programs, Greg Delory and his colleagues have developed an autonomous sensor platform that has demonstrated magnetotelluric soundings over one kilometer deep at field test sites in the upper Snake River Plain region of southeastern Idaho. Greg will discuss his latest field test results, compare them with previous measurements of subsurface properties in the region, and demonstrate the applicability of this technique on a variety of potential future missions to the surface of Mars.

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06/25/2008 - Toxicological effects of moon dust - how humans will react in the lunar environment

Jon Rask and Erin Tranfield:

During the Apollo era, lunar regolith was commonly brought into the lunar module via dirty spacesuits and as a result, the cabin surfaces and the cabin atmosphere became contaminated. Based on detailed technical debriefs of the Apollo astronauts, it was apparent during the missions that respiratory effects, skin effects and potential ocular effects of lunar dust needed to be evaluated. Although these areas of concern were recognized, short mission duration and rapid mission succession prevented a detailed analysis of the medical problems associated with lunar dust. Erin and John will report on their investigations into the biological effects of lunar dust to understand potential skin effects, inhalation toxicity, and ocular effects that may result from long duration human habitation of the Moon.

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06/18/2008 - Exploratory data analysis of planetary hyperspectral datasets - use of statistics to enhance mission science return

by Mario Parente, Department of Electrical Engineering, Stanford University and SETI Institute

Mario Parente will describe the latest developments in statistical
analysis of hyperspectral images, describing his efforts to enhance the
science return of the CRISM infrared spectrometer using a multi-stage
denoising technique. He will describe how it is possible to model the
CRISM instrument and efforts currently ongoing that involve
investigations of surface minerals at Juventae Chasma and Mawrth Valles
on the surface of Mars.

Play Quicktime video

06/11/2008 - The Role of Cortical Noise in Brain Function

by Prof. Donald A. Glaser, UC Berkeley (Nobel Prize in Physics, 1960 for the invention of the "bubble chamber")

Professor Glaser will show some visual dynamic and static visual illusions and the effects of ethanol and marijuana on these illusions. He will speculate that ET's may experience a different set of illusions related to their own brain structures and functions. Could their language and visual imagery depend on these cerebral features and therefore be difficult for us to "understand" or appreciate? Do you assume in your work that their physics is the same as ours?

Play Quicktime Movie

06/04/2008 - Liverpool Telescope: Development and science results from a fully autonomous common-user telescope

by Robert Smith

The Liverpool Telescope is a fully autonomous robotic telescope at the world-class observatory site on La Palma in the Canary Islands, owned and operated by Liverpool John Moores University (UK). Robert will summarize the original motivation for building such a facility and the design features of telescope, instrumentation and control software which enable its unusual operating mode. The unique facility that it provides has enabled or facilitated exciting scientific results in a wide range of solar system, Galactic and extra-Galactic astrophysics and Robert shall present recent results from some of the diverse research projects performed on the telescope, concentrating on the now proven usefulness of large-aperture robotic telescopes.

Play Quicktime Movie

04/09/2008 - SETI Institute - History, the Institute Today, and Plans for the Future

by Tom Pierson, CEO of the SETI Institute

From humble beginnings in a trailer at Ames Research Center, to modern facilities on Whisman Road in Mountain View, the SETI Institute truly has evolved over the past 24 years. From the beginning, the Institute’s mission has been to conduct, support, and encourage a broad range of research and educational activities intended to improve humankind’s understanding of the nature, prevalence, and distribution of life in the universe. This work encompasses SETI, astrobiology, and science education efforts funded from a wide variety of public and private sources.

Tom will survey the past and present of the SETI Institute, and also provide some thoughts on how he sees the future, highlighting some of the things that senior management and the Board of Trustees are focusing on. It is hoped that this colloquium will truly be a conversation with the plenty of audience participation. All SETI Institute staff and interested supporters or collaborators are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Play Quicktime movie

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Access to lectures between 12/2007 and 04/2008

The lectures recorded between 12/2007 and 04/2008 are Flash videos and will not play on iTune.

If you are interested in the older lectures, you can find them from the 2008 archive page here.