The Open Letter
Dear Dr. Kingsley:
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.
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.
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.
Dr. Edward J.
Associate Administrator for Space Science
Washington, DC 20546
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.