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Optical SETI Faculty Talk in the United Kingdom


The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence in the Optical Spectrum &

Preview to the January 2001 OSETI III Conference


Lecture for Students & Faculty

Department of Physics & Astronomy

Cardiff University, Wales, United Kingdom
Tuesday, November 7, 2000



Dr. Stuart A. Kingsley
Director, The Columbus Optical SETI Observatory
Chairman, SPIE's Third International Conference on Optical SETI


Host: Dr. Amanda Baker, Cardiff University.

Venue: Department of Physics and Astronomy, Cardiff University, The Parade, Cardiff, www.astro.cf.ac.uk.

Time: 1 - 2 pm.

Further Information: Contact Amanda Baker, a.baker@astro.cf.ac.uk, www.astro.cf.ac.uk/pub/Amanda.Baker,  Dept. Physics and Astronomy, Cardiff University, PO Box 913, Wales CF24 3YB, Code: +44 (29) Tel: 2087 5121 (direct) 2087 4785 (secretary) 2087 4056 (fax).



This talk, the first lecture under the auspices of the new Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology, the first astrobiology centre in the UK, will describe the rationale behind the optical search for extraterrestrial intelligence.  It will also preview the upcoming conference on Optical SETI that is being hosted by SPIE (The International Society for Optical Engineering).  The optical approach to searching for ETI technologies touches on a subject which for various reasons has only been accepted by main-stream SETI researchers since 1998, thought the idea is almost 40 years old.  Dr. Kingsley has been investigating this subject since 1990.

This lecture 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.  Optical SETI observations can consists of looking for continuous wave laser beacon signals or for laser beacons with pulse durations of about one nanosecond.

The author has defined four basic types of Optical SETI:

  • Professional Optical SETI employing large telescopes and coherent heterodyne detection.

  • Professional Optical SETI employing large telescopes and incoherent direct-detection/photon-counting.

  • Amateur Optical SETI employing small telescopes and incoherent direct-detection/photon-counting.

  • Retrospective Optical SETI involving search through the historical record of spectrographic plates in the hope of find  anomalous spectral (laser) lines.

Stuart Kingsley also has his own small Optical SETI observatory, which is located in his backyard.  The Columbus Optical SETI Observatory, the first observatory in North America dedicated to the optical search, is presently undergoing an upgrade.  It 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 upgraded automated observatory will employ two high-speed photon-counters employed in a coincidence mode to analyze starlight and search for narrow laser beacon pulses from stars within a few hundred light years of earth.  It is hoped that the observatory will be in a position to start collecting quantitative data again by the summer of 2001.  Optical SETI is one of the few areas of optical astronomy, that with the right type of telescope, can be done during the day under a clear blue sky!

As mentioned earlier, this lecture also previews the upcoming Optical SETI III (OSETI III) Conference, which is to be held at the San Jose Convention Center, San Jose, California on January 22-24, 2001.  The keynote speaker for OSETI III will be Cardiff University's own Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe who will present a paper on The Unity of Cosmic Life and the Inevitability of Evolved Life Forms.  This paper is co-authored with Professor, Sir Fred Hoyle.  Sir Fred Hoyle and his former student, Chandra Wickramasinghe, have been pioneers in astrobiology and the ideas of "panspermia" - that the cosmos contains the very seeds of life, which only has to rain down (comets and meteorites) on suitable planets to cause more complex life forms to arise.  With the increasing numbers of extrasolar planets being discovered since late 1995, the probability that intelligent life will arise elsewhere in the universe is improving significantly, even though earth-like planets have yet to be discovered.  The  probability that life can arise is just one of the many unknowns in the famous Drake Equation, and as this probability moves away from zero and closer to unity, so does the likelihood that SETI research, be it microwave or optical, may eventually prove that "we are not alone".  However, not to get too carried away with ourselves, Dr. Peter D. Ward will be speaking about The Rare Earth Hypothesis.  Just as "panspermia" has been controversial over the past 25 years and only now is receiving greater acceptance in the scientific community, the efficacy of the optical approach to SETI has also been very controversial.  Only recently has the latter been given credibility by the American (Microwave) SETI community, after over a quarter of a century of strong opposition.

This third international conference on Optical SETI will actually mark the 40th anniversary of OSETI, first suggested by Schwartz and Townes in 1961, just one year after the laser was invented.  To mark this important milestone, Nobel laureate, Professor Charles H. Townes, will present a special invited paper on Reflections on Forty Years of Optical SETI -- Looking Forward and Looking Backward.  Monte Ross, who first showed in 1965 that transmitting very short laser pulses would be most effective for interstellar communications, will describe with Stuart Kingsley, their ideas for an optical version of the distributed computing SETI@Home project.  This has been named The Photon Star Project.

Dr. Kingsley has also called for retrofitting the Hubble Space Telescope and designing into the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST) and other space telescopes, the equipment required to undertake Optical SETI.  He expects that by the year 2010, most SETI research, both on the ground and in space, will be of the optical kind.  The future, both for electromagnetic terrestrial and interstellar communications, is photonic - there should never have been any doubt about it!



Stuart A. Kingsley was born in Stoke Newington, London, England on May 15, 1948, and lived most of his life in South Tottenham, London.  He attended Markfield Secondary Modern and Tottenham County schools, the latter located close to London's famous Tottenham Hotspurs football grounds.  Stuart received a B.Sc. Honors and Ph.D. in Electronic and Electrical Engineering from The City University, London, England, and University College London (UCL), England, in 1972 and 1984, respectively.  Stuart 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., which produces a variety of electric-field, voltage and optical intensity modulators based on integrated optic Mach-Zehnder interferometers.  Stuart is also the Director of The Columbus Optical SETI Observatory

In 1984, Stuart shared the prestigious Rank Prize for Optoelectronics with Professor, Sir D.E.N. Davies, for their pioneering work on fiber-optic sensing and coherent fiber-optic data highways.  Stuart 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, and he also has several patents.  In the 90's, he arranged and chaired two international SPIE (The international Society for Optical Engineering) conferences on Optical SETI.  Presently, Stuart is organizing the third Optical SETI conference.  This is scheduled to be held on January 22-24, 2001, at the San Jose Convention Center, California.  As VP of Engineering for SRICO, Inc., he is involved in the design and development of novel integrated optic wideband electric field and voltage sensing devices.  In 1996, SRICO was awarded the prestigious R&D 100 Award by R&D Magazine for a new photonic electric-field sensor product, for which Stuart Kingsley was one of the inventors.   Stuart is a member of the IEE, a British Chartered Engineer, a senior member of IEEE, a member of Eta Kappa Nu, and belongs to various space interest groups.  Stuart is a volunteer with the Ohio State University SETI Group and had been a U.S. citizen since 1995.  Dr. Kingsley is a former editorial board member for SETIQuest (which stopped publication in 1998) and he is presently a board member of the Laser Museum & Space Signal Observatory (LSSO).

Presently, he is revisiting, promoting and pioneering the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) in the Optical Spectrum, where he brings to the subject his considerable expertise in photonics.  In the summer of 1998 his persistence was vindicated by the SETI Institute and The Planetary Society announcing the start of their own OSETI programs after years of opposing the optical approach to SETI.  In February 1999, Stuart assumed the chair of The SETI League's new Optical SETI Committee.  In March 2000,  the SETI League presented Stuart with the Giordano Bruno Memorial Award for his pioneering efforts in the search for laser signals from space.  Dr. Kingsley maintains a huge Web site promoting Optical SETI; the URL being www.coseti.org.  He also has an associated e-commerce web site and has recently launched three new Web sites: The Optical SETI Network (for the future networking of Optical SETI observatories around the world), The Fourth Planet (for promoting the Manned Exploration of Mars) and is own personal Web site: www.stuartkingsley.com.

First Posted: October 7, 2000
Updated: November 19, 2000 

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