News & Events

Jodrell Bank Resumes Search for Life in the Universe

22 March 1999

Following the abandonment of the observations last September due to damage caused by Hurricane George to the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, the University of Manchester's Lovell radio telescope at Jodrell Bank has resumed its role in the most sensitive and comprehensive search ever undertaken for radio communication signals from Extra-Terrestrial Civilisations beyond our Solar System.

The collaborative research programme with the SETI Institute, called Project Phoenix, is using the two telescopes to make observations of the regions around several hundred Sun-like stars that lie within a distance of 200 light years. Ian Morison, who is co-ordinating the Jodrell Bank observations, explained that, "Astronomers expect that other civilisations are most likely to be found on planets in orbit around stars similar to our Sun. Such stars live long enough and provide enough heat to allow life a chance to evolve. Jill Tarter, Director of the SETI Institute, points out that "by using the Arecibo and Lovell Telescopes together in the search we have the most sensitive system currently available to search for extra-terrestrial signals."

The privately-funded SETI Institute, in California, has continued the development of a NASA multi-million channel receiver which is capable of efficiently searching a wide band of frequencies where extra-terrestrial signals might be found. This receiver is located at the Arecibo telescope and is used to make the initial detection of signals having the appropriate characteristics. The Lovell telescope is then immediately used to eliminate earth-based interference or confirm any suspected extra-terrestrial signal.

Previous searches for Life in the Universe have always been plagued with the problem of discriminating between a "true" extra-terrestrial signal and those originating on Earth or from artificial satellites. As Ian Morison explains: "local signals are eliminated by making simultaneous observations with the two radio telescopes. Due their transatlantic separation, a signal has to come from a very great distance, from at least the outer part of our Solar System, for the computer-based detection systems to be triggered at both telescopes. Fortunately, we can make a regular check on the system by receiving the signal from the 26 year old Pioneer 10 spacecraft, now far beyond the orbit of Pluto."

The search is being undertaken during two three-week observing sessions each year and will continue for several years. As Professor Andrew Lyne, Director of Jodrell Bank, said "If an extra-terrestrial signal were detected, it would be one of the most dramatic discoveries ever made. We are glad that we can make a contribution to this exciting scientific quest."

Further Information on the background to the search, and supporting images, can be found on the Jodrell Bank Web Site:

For Futher Information Contact:

Ian Morison, University of Manchester, Jodrell Bank.
Phone: +44-1477- 571321
Fax: +44-1477- 571618