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Kiwanis Club of Westerville, Ohio


The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence in the
Optical Spectrum (Optical SETI)


Organization: Kiwanis Club of Westerville, Ohio

Venue: Schmidt's Restaurant, 6800 E. Schrock Hill Ct., Westerville, Ohio

Date: Wednesday, March 29, 2000

Time: 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM


Over the past decade, Dr. Stuart Kingsley, a distinguished photonics engineer living in Columbus, Ohio, has revisited the optical search for extraterrestrial intelligence.  Stuart moved to Columbus, Ohio from London, England, in 1981.  Almost single-handedly, he has caused mainstream SETI scientists to reconsider their over-emphasis of the microwave approach to SETI.  Stuart has been aided by The Columbus Optical SETI's Web site www.coseti.org and two conferences on Optical SETI (OSETI).  A third international conference scheduled for 2001.

Dr. Kingsley was vindicated in the summer of 1998, when the SETI Institute and The Planetary Society decided to set up their own Optical SETI research activities.  Now that the opposition to Optical SETI, which has lasted for over a quarter-of-a-century, has largely abated and mainstream OSETI activities are underway, we can expect worldwide Optical SETI research activities to substantially increase.  Indeed, Stuart Kingsley confidently expects that by the year 2005, most SETI activities on this planet will be optical in nature.

Dr. Kingsley has also called for the instrumentation of space-based telescopes for optical SETI research, for it is possible that if there are attention-getting laser beacon signals being directed at the Earth by ETIs, they are not at a wavelength at which the atmosphere is transparent.  In his Ohio University talk, Dr. Kingsley will give a sense of the history of Optical SETI over the past 40 years, and how you can set up your own Optical SETI observatory and participate in this exciting research.  Stuart will also make some personal observations about how new scientific ideas sometimes do not get the attention they deserve, despite their "obvious" merit.



This talk will describe the rationale behind the optical search for extraterrestrial intelligence, the design and construction of the first Visible Optical SETI Observatory in North America and describe new Optical SETI (OSETI) programs started by other research groups.  This talk deals primarily with the superiority of free-space interstellar optical (laser) beamed communications over its microwave counterpart.  The advantage that free-space laser communications has over microwaves is demonstrated with respect to both future interstellar communications with our deep space probes and for SETI-type interstellar communications.  

The Columbus Optical SETI Observatory, otherwise knows as "The COSETI Observatory", is the world's first observatory dedicated to Optical SETI.  The modern definition of "optical" is used here to cover the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from above the millimeter wave band to the ultraviolet.  The optical approach to searching for ETI technologies touches on a subject which for various reasons has only recently begun to be accepted by the majority of the SETI community.  The presenter has been investigating this subject since 1990.  Indeed, 2001 will mark the 40th anniversary of the paper by Schwartz and Townes that first suggested the laser approach to SETI.  The fact that it has taken nearly 40 years for the optical approach to become accepted as a viable SETI technique is an historical accident caused in main, by the conclusions of the famous Cyclops Report; a 1973 publication that is often revered to as the "SETI Bible".

The author has defined four types of Optical SETI:
(a)  Professional Optical SETI employing large telescopes and coherent heterodyne detection.
(b)  Professional Optical SETI employing large telescopes and incoherent direct-detection/photon-counting.
(c)  Amateur Optical SETI employing small telescopes and incoherent direct-detection/photon-counting.
(d)  Retrospective Optical SETI involving a search through historical stellar plates for anomalous spectral lines.

The Columbus Optical SETI Observatory is located at the author's home, and is based on the Meade LX200 25.4 cm (10") diameter Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope (SCT).  This SCT, which is housed within a 10 ft. diameter dome, can be controlled remotely by computer.  The automated observatory employs a high-speed photon-counter to analyze starlight and search for narrow laser beacon pulses from stars within a few hundred light years of earth.  Activities of the observatory can be monitored via the WebCams on the COSETI Web site.  One of the purposes of the COSETI Web site is not only to promote Optical SETI but to also help in the future coordination of worldwide OSETI activities by professional and amateur scientists.


Dr. Stuart A. Kingsley


Stuart A. Kingsley was born in London, England on May 15, 1948.  He received a B.Sc. Honors and Ph.D. in Electronic and Electrical Engineering from The City University, London, England, and University College London, England, in 1972 and 1984, respectively.  He arrived in the states in 1981, and went to work for Battelle Columbus Division as a Principal Research Scientist, becoming a Senior Research Scientist in 1985.  He left Battelle in 1987 and established his own photonics consultancy business Fiberdyne Optoelectronics.  Since 1992 he has been the VP for Engineering at SRICO, Inc.  He is the Director of The Columbus Optical SETI Observatory.

Stuart has been involved in producing a variety of fiber-optic sensors, including fiber-optic rotation sensors.  He invented the fiber-optic line-stretcher and fiber-optic line-squeezer phase modulators that are important components in fiber-optic sensing systems.  In 1984, he shared the prestigious Rank  Prize in Optoelectronics with his thesis advisor Professor, Sir D.E.N. Davies (former Chief Scientific Advisor to the British Ministry of Defence, IEE President in 1995/1996 and now President of the Royal Academy of  Engineering ), for their pioneering work on fiber-optic sensing.  He is the author of  over 50 papers, mainly in coherent fiber-optic systems, the so-called fiberdyne effect or modal noise phenomena in fibers, and distributed fiber-optic  sensing.  He also has several patents, and has arranged and chaired sessions and two Optical SETI conferences for SPIE (The International Society for Optical Engineering).  A third International Conference on Optical SETI (OSETI III) is scheduled for January 2001.  As VP of Engineering for SRICO, Inc., Stuart is involved in the design and development of novel integrated optic electric-field  and voltage sensing devices and wideband fiber optic links.  He is a member of the IEE, a British Chartered Engineer, a senior member of IEEE, a  member of Eta Kappa Nu Association, belongs to The Planetary Society and various other space interest groups.  He is the chairman of The SETI League's Optical SETI division.

Other professional interests of his include the possible health effects of electromagnetic pollution, and the adverse effects of fluorescent lighting/VDT flicker.  Presently, Stuart is pioneering the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) in the Optical Spectrum.  He is constructing a prototype  Visible Optical SETI Observatory based on photon-counting techniques.  The aim of the observatory is to detect ultra-fast pulsed and continuous wave laser beacon signals emanating from star systems within a few hundred light years.  The Web site www.coseti.org promotes his own and world-wide Optical SETI activities.  For full resume click here.  For the history of Stuart's OSETI activities and background, click here.

Suggested Background Reading:

NASA's Cyclops Report, 1973.  Obtainable from the SETI League and the SETI Institute.

Stuart A. Kingsley (Editor), "The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) in the Optical Spectrum", SPIE Proceedings Vol. 1867, OE LASE '93, Los Angeles, California, January 21-22, 1993.

Paul Davies, "Are We Alone? - Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life", Penguin Books, 1995.  See page 94 for a brief mention of work on Optical SETI, and also the review of this book by Arthur C. Clarke in the March 17 issue of The Times Higher Educational Supplement (page 24).

Barrie Jones, "Amateurs take up the search for life", Astronomy Now, October 1995, pp. 43-45.

Stuart A. Kingsley & Guillermo Lemarchand (Editors), "The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) in the Optical Spectrum", SPIE Proceedings Vol. 2704, Photonics West '96, San Jose, California, January 31 - February 1, 1996.

Sky & Telescope, December 1998, pp. 44-48.
Bioastronomy News, Volume 11, Number 1, First Quarter 1999.
Sky & Telescope, June 1999, P. 19.  (Encyclopedia Britannica Version)
Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine, September 1999, pp. 72-77.
SETI News, Volume 8, Number 2, Third Quarter 1999.




First Posted: February 17, 2000
Revised: February 27, 2000 
Version 1.1

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