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June 26, 2016
Dear friends,

Classes are over and grades are in.  The summer quarter at UCLA has officially begun.  The summer season is traditionally devoted to sustained research activity and manuscript writing, and this year will be no exception.  In addition to pursuing research projects related to Mercury, Venus, asteroids, Europa, and exoplanets, I will work with SETI course alumni to finalize the analysis and publish the results of our SETI observations.
Some of the small habitable zone planets discovered by Kepler that we observed during the UCLA Spring 2016 SETI course.  The names of the students responsible for source selection and analysis are shown in red.
You may be wondering how the SETI course ended.  We had scheduled two sessions for final student presentations during the last week of classes.  The first session was canceled due to a campus lockdown following the tragic murder of Professor William Klug.  We modified our plans, shortened the presentations, and each student presented for 8 minutes on the last day of classes.  Students described their respective software contributions to the data processing pipeline as well as the most promising signals that they identified in their respective data sets.  They also described signals attributed to man-made radio-frequency interference (RFI), sometimes based on an elaborate diagnosis.  At the end of the day, all of the candidate signals were attributed to terrestrial RFI.  We did not find evidence of artificial signals indicative of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI).  This was the most likely outcome of the search, so we are not discouraged.  In fact, I am encouraged by what the students learned and how well they performed. 
The data processing pipeline developed during the Spring 2016 UCLA SETI course, with student contributions noted in red.
The data processing pipeline detected about 17,500 signals and students highlighted the most interesting ones.  One of the intriguing signal in our observations with the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) has a somewhat erratic behavior in the time-frequency diagram, as if the oscillator was not locked properly to a specific frequency.  We detected this signal in several different directions in the sky, so we suspect that it is due to an interferer.  A signal emitted by a distant civilization would be detected when the telescope is pointing towards that civilization but not when it is pointing in other directions.  Other signal sources that the students identified include GLONASS (the Russian GPS system), weather satellites, and observatory "birdies" (locally generated interference).
A signal with erratic frequency behavior was detected from several different directions during our observations with the Green Bank Telescope.
Many tasks remain on our to-do list.  Due to the high volume of data, students analyzed only a subset (~15%) of their data set.  We will process the remaining 85% over the summer.  Our current frequency resolution explores about 200 million individual channels in the GBT data and we will reprocess the data in a way that yields 3 times as many channels.  We can improve the data processing pipeline in several areas, including the calibration of data, the efficiency of ETI filters, and overall automation.  We have focused so far on certain signal types and we would like to expand our analysis to detect additional signal types.  The work ahead could easily keep one or two graduate students occupied full time, and I have therefore increased the ask on our SETI web site to include graduate student funding.  On a smaller scale, we are also seeking funds to offer the SETI course again in Spring 2017.
What's next for SETI course alumni?  One of the EE graduate students who took the SETI course expressed an interest in radio astronomy instrumentation.  I described possibilities for upgrading the radar backend and made some inquiries about appropriate projects with colleagues at Arecibo and the GBT.  Other students have volunteered to continue with software development and data analysis over the summer.  Several students will be going to graduate school in the Fall.  I feel privileged to have had such an enthusiastic and talented group of students for the first offering of the SETI course.  I very much look forward to teaching this course again.

Warm regards,

Jean-Luc Margot

Copyright © 2016 UCLA SETI Group. All rights reserved.

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