Winter 2010 Issue
SETI, EmComm, and YO-YO 72
By Rich Arland, K7SZ
Hello and welcome to 2010. I trust that Santa
was good to you and this new year will be an informative and fun-filled
time as we explore more of VHF+. As a starter for the new year, I plan on
deviating a bit from the norm and wander into an exciting aspect that
couples real QRP (low-power signals, 5 watts and under) with VHF+,
resulting in an almost surreal endeavor: Searching for Extra Terrestrial
One of the great things about living in northeast Pennsylvania for a number of years was I was close to Dr. Paul Shuch, N6TX, better known as “Dr. SETI” (see his column elsewhere in this issue—ed.). Paul is the firebrand behind the SETI League (http://setileague.org/), headquartered in New Jersey. I first became acquainted with Dr. Shuch about 10 years ago when I attended a York (PA) VHF club meeting where he was the guest speaker. The topic? SETI, of course!
Both my wife, Patricia, and I were transfixed
by Paul’s presentation and joined The SETI League on the spot! His overall
message: SETI is doable on a small budget, using cast off C-Band satellite
TV dishes and some relatively inexpensive hardware, including the sound
card on your computer. During his multi-media presentation, Dr. Shuch
showed how easy it was to retrofit a 9- or 12-foot dish and achieve the
sensitivity approaching (if not surpassing) the huge “Big Ear” radio
telescope at Ohio State University. Wow! That is a lot to take in all at
Speaking of “WOW!” the Big Ear radio telescope
was the one that heard the famous “WOW!” signal in 1979. What was the
“WOW!” signal? It was a series of coded observations recorded by a radio
astronomer who was using the Big Ear at the time. In the margin of the
printout he placed the letters “WOW!” alongside the incoming signal. Was
this the first indication of extraterrestrial life? The answer is unknown.
Even though radio astronomers across the world followed up on the “WOW!”
signal, no other emanations from that particular portion of the sky have
ever been recorded. Try as they did, no one could duplicate the signal on
other radio telescopes. Some think that this was an anomaly—some glitch in
the receiving or recording equipment. Others think it might have been a
terrestrial source such as an artificial Earth satellite or possibly a spy
aircraft. In short, no one knows for sure. The “WOW!” signal still
mystifies radio astronomers to this day.
The ultimate goal of The SETI League is to use amateur radio astronomy equipment manned by SETI League members to provide an “all-sky” search in an attempt to receive some microwave transmissions from intelligent species outside our own planet. It seems far fetched, but in reality it is a starting point that, unfortunately, has been pushed aside by main-stream science and NASA. This leaves interested amateurs in the driver’s seat. With the current microwave receiving techniques coupled with re-tasked C-Band satellite TV dishes and some very sophisticated software, an individual can assemble a working radio telescope that would rival anything that could have been placed on line by universities and/or governments only 20 years ago. Now that is saying something.
The cost is quite economical, too, if I do say
so myself. My 12-foot C-Band dish cost me absolutely nothing! It was free
in exchange for my efforts to remove it. Thanks to Kyle Albritton, W4KDA,
and his big pickup and trailer, we managed to dismount the dish from its
mounting pole, load it on the trailer, and drive it about a half mile to
my home. Two of my neighbors helped us man-handle the dish on and off the
trailer. It now sits beside our house awaiting a new mounting system and a
whole bunch of concrete. All in good time.
Believe it or not, procuring a dish was the easy part of this SETI station. The receiver was the biggie. If you have deep pockets, a wide-band commercial receiver such as the ICOM R-5000 would be a good choice. Why?
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