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Dear friends,

A wonderful surprise inspired this second newsletter.  Janet Marott matched the generous gift that she made last month with a second generous gift this month!  I am thrilled that she is such a strong supporter of our SETI initiative, and I am immensely grateful for her contributions.  Janet is part of the UCLA Physical Sciences Board of Visitors, which is a group that advises our Dean, our Department Heads, and our Development Officers on how to improve all aspects of the Division of Physical Sciences, including the research, teaching, and public outreach missions of the University.  Because I currently serve as the Vice Chair of the Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences (EPSS), I have had the privilege of attending some of the Board meetings.  The collective wisdom and experience of the Board members is an amazing resource that really helps our Division position itself at the forefront of the physical sciences.  Our last meeting on Friday, January 22, was particularly energizing because several initiatives for connecting with industry and research partners are materializing (SpaceX, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, NASA).  

Janet's second gift will go towards the purchase of a storage server and computing node for the SETI course that will start at the end of March.  With our current allocation of 3 hours of telescope time, the data volume will be substantial.  We will be recording as many channels as possible (you can think of channels as individual positions in frequency space, much like the individual TV or radio stations that you can tune to by adjusting the frequency on your TV or radio station).  Each channel occupies a certain width in frequency space, so the total extent in frequency space is the product of the number of channels by the width of one channel.  We want to record as many channels as possible in order to explore as much of the frequency space as we can.  This strategy maximizes the likelihood of detecting a signal because we do not know a priori the frequencies at which signals may be transmitted.  With the instrumentation available at Arecibo and Green Bank, we may be sampling almost a billion channels.  Recording each channel requires about 8 bits (i.e., 1 byte) per second.  So, the math for the data storage requirement is fairly straightforward: 1 byte per channel per second x 1 billion channels x 10,000 seconds = 10,000 Gigabytes = 10 Terabytes.  The actual storage requirement is at least 10 times as much because the students will experiment with a number of operations on the data and they will need to store the intermediate data products.  I will soon order a storage server with at least 100 Terabytes of disk space.  I have some experience with these systems because I am funded by NASA to create a complete archive of all the Arecibo radar data ever recorded, which also amounts to about 100 Terabytes.  The figure shows our radar archive storage server mounted in a standard 19 inch rack.  There are 24 disks of 4 Terabytes each.  There are also redundant solid state devices for the Linux operating system that controls the server. 
A rack-mounted storage server
By the time I write the next newsletter, we will know more about enrollment in the SETI course.  The Spring schedule will go live on the UCLA registrar's web site sometime this week, after which students will be able to enroll.  Given that we have never offered this course before, it is difficult to predict how many students will register.  Should the class be oversubscribed, I will explore the possibility of using a larger computer lab on campus.

Apart from planning the SETI course, I am continuing to advise my students and postdoc, and I am writing a 30-page review chapter on the interior structure of Mercury for an upcoming book that the MESSENGER team will publish in 2016.  It is important that I remain productive in the more conventional areas of astronomy and planetary sciences because almost all of my research funding comes from federal agencies such as NASA and NSF.  Regrettably, these agencies are unlikely to fund SETI research.  Although NASA launched a $12 million SETI program in 1992, Congress abruptly pulled the plug a year later.  For now, SETI efforts are enabled by philanthropy.

Before I sign off, let me assure you that Planet Nine, if and when it is detected, will pass the planet test.

Warm regards,

Jean-Luc Margot
Copyright © 2016 UCLA SETI Group, All rights reserved.
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