What do I do if I "see a signal" on the [email protected]ome screen saver?
Before we can get to the "what happens" part, we should let you know more about the "what if" part. One of the most important things to know about this data and the results of your analysis is that there are LOTS of sources of radio signals. Many are produced here on earth. TV stations, radar, various other microwave transmitters. Satellites and many astronmical objects are also sources. There are also "test signals" that are intentionally injected into the system so the [email protected] team can confirm that the hardware and software is working properly at all points through the system. The Arecibo radio telescope will pick up all these signals and happily send them along to your screen saver. The radio telescope doesn't care about any of these signals just as your ear doesn't care about what sounds it collects. Your screen saver is going to sift through the signals looking for any source that is "louder" that the background and also rises and falls in 12 seconds - the time the telescope takes to pass over a spot in the sky.
Any signals that qualify will be sent back to the Berkeley [email protected] team for further analysis. The [email protected] team maintains a large database of known radio-frequency interference (RFI) sources. This database is constantly updated. At this point 99.9999% of all the signals that your screen saver detects will be thrown out as RFI. Test signals are also removed at this point.
Remaining unresolved signals are then checked against another observation from the same part of the sky. This could take up to 6 months since the [email protected] team does not have control of the telescope. If the signal is confirmed, the [email protected] team will request dedicated telescope time and will re-observe the most interesting candidates.
If a signal is observed two or more times, and it's not RFI or a test signal, the [email protected] team will ask another group to take a look. This other group will be using different telescopes, receivers, computers, etc. This will hopefully rule out a bug in our equipment or our computer code (or a clever student playing a prank...) Together with the other team, [email protected] will do interferometry measurements (it takes two observations seperated by a big distance) This can confirm that the source of the signal is at interstellar distances.
If this is confirmed, [email protected] will make an announcement in the form of an IAU (International Astronomical Union) telegram. This is a standard way of informing the astronomical community of important discoveries. The telegram contains all of the important information (frequencies, bandwidth, location in the sky, etc.) that would be necessary for other astronomical groups to confirm the observation. The person(s) who found the signal with their screen saver would be named as one of the co-discoverers along with the others on the [email protected] team. At this point we would still be unsure if the signal was generated by an intelligent civilization or maybe some new astronomical phenomenon.
All information about the discovery will be made public, probably via the web. No country or individual would be allowed to jam the frequency the signal is observed on. Since the object will rise and set as seen from any given location, observations from radio observatories around the world will be necessary. This will, by necessity, be a multi-national effort. All this information will be made public.
Because of this protocol, it is important that participants in the [email protected]me project do not get excited when they see signals on their screen and go off on their own making announcements and calling the press. This could be very damaging to the project. It's important that we keep our heads cool and our computers hot while they grind away at the data. We can all hope that we will be the one that helps receive the signal of some extraterrestrial civilization trying to "phone home."
To read the whole text, start here.
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