Project Phoenix

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Project Phoenix rose from the ashes of the SETI project , which was cancelled by the American Congress in 1993. Project Phoenix aims to detect extra-terrestrial civilizations by a targeted search of outer space for radio signals being beamed towards us, either deliberately or accidentally. .The SETI project had a more scatter gun approach and it was realised that a more targeted approach might bring better results

Project Phoenix started its search at the Parkes radio telescope in New South Wales, Australia in 1995. Any possible contacts were to immediately be confirmed by the smaller Mopra antenna some 125 kilometers to its North. At 64 meters The Parkes telescope is the largest in the Southern hemisphere. It was felt that the telescope offered the best chance of detecting signals as it is in a less polluted area than most other telescopes.

The search was narrowed by defining parameters likely to lead to success. Radio signals are being searched for from nearby bright but long-lived stars similar to our own sun. The parameters chosen narrowed the search to 1,000 nearby stars and the search began in 1995.

The searchers are looking at frequencies between 1,000 and 10,000 MHz. Between these frequencies it is felt that there is the least chance of background interference, but at the same time a lot of our important activities can be found between these numbers. For example mobile phones mostly operate at the lower end of this band, and satellite television is mostly found at the other. This band width also includes Hydrogen (1420MHz) and water (1600MHz), which together define the smaller band known as the water hole. The big assumption is that life requires water and that other civilizations would to communicate on this band width for this reason.

Even narrowing the band width search as much as this still leaves a vast range to be searched and the search is computerized for ease. "Suspect "signals are cleaned of known background interference and then rechecked immediately by the searching telescope and a second one to eliminate transmissions from other sources, such as satellites in orbit around Earth.

In September 1996 the project moved to the national radio Observatory in Green Bank West Virginia with the secondary site near Atlanta (Woodbury). In April 1998 the project and the Woodbury equipment moved to Arecibo (Puerto Rico), with the Parks part of the project going to Jodrell bank in the UK.

In March 2004 the project officially ended with the news that 800 stars had been successfully explored, and that no evidence of radio signals had been found coming from any of the planets. The scientists are not downhearted, however. As they point out, their failure to detect "human" radio signals does not mean that there are no alternative life forms in outer space.

The lessons learned from Project phoenix have been carried forward to new projects such as e-Merlin at Jodrell bank.

More about this author: Eve Redstone

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