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Open Letter to the HST-JWST Transition Panel
Concerning Space-Based Optical SETI

Follow-Up Correspondence


The Open Letter

NASA's Reply:

November 14, 2003
10:54 AM

Dear Dr. Kingsley:

Thank you for your email correspondence of November 2 regarding the use of Hubble Space Telescope (HST) or the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) for the purpose of searching for optical signals from extraterrestrial civilizations . The Administrator of NASA, Mr. Sean O'Keefe has asked me to reply. 

I'm sure you are aware that these observatories are not presently equipped to (or being designed to) optimally search large angular swaths of the sky.  The imaging field of view in either the HST or JWST case is a few square arcminutes per pointing.  Doing a sky survey of even just within 20 degrees of the Galactic Plane would require millions of pointings of either Observatory - clearly impossible for exposures of reasonable length. Smaller, directed pointing programs may always be attempted through the yearly observing proposal process.

NASA solicits ideas from the astronomical community and uses the peer review process to select its missions and instruments.  This is how the priorities of the research community become realized in NASA missions.  No one proposed a fast photon counter instrument for the JWST when its call for instruments went out (November 2001), and no one has proposed such an instrument for the HST during the calls for new instrumentation it periodically issues. 

I would encourage you to submit your ideas or mission concepts to one of the periodic calls for smaller missions (Small and Midrange Explorers).  Please see the URL: http://research.hq.nasa.gov/code_s/code_s.cfm for a listing of open research solicitations.



Edward J. Weiler


Dr. Edward J. Weiler
Associate Administrator for Space Science
Code S
NASA Headquarters
Washington, DC  20546

Email = edward.j.weiler@nasa.gov
Fax = 202-358-3092
Tel:  = 202-358-1409



November 14, 2004
12:48 PM

Dear Dr. Weiler,

Thank you for your reply.  I should have noted and made clear in my letter, though it can be found all over my web site, that most OSETI observatories work on the basis of a targeted search, rather like the targeted microwave search.  Indeed, we would observe the same several hundred stars that have and are being observed by the microwave SETI people.  As far as I know, only Paul Horowitz with his new Planetary Society observatory will be doing a quasi-all sky optical search.  So the pointing issue for the HST or JWST is a non-issue and a targeted search would not consume that much telescope time.  The late Barney Oliver used the difficulty of conducting a diffraction-limited all-sky optical survey as one of the justifications as to why Optical SETI was not sensible idea.  It didn't make sense then and it doesn't make sense now.

I am not surprised that the astronomical community has not requested instrumentation for fast photon-counting.  However, I would also not be surprised if you were to receive such requests once it was known that such a capability could be made available by the end of the decade.  As I indicated, serendipity can yield some surprising results.

It is distressing that NASA would prefer to dump the HST in the ocean rather than extend its observing lifetime.



Dr. Stuart A. Kingsley
The Columbus Optical SETI Observatory
The Bournemouth Optical SETI Observatory



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