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May 29, 2016
Dear friends,

We are in the final stretch of the Spring 2016 offering of the UCLA SETI course.  Students are busy analyzing their data sets and identifying artificial signals.  They will present their findings during 10-minute individual presentations this Wednesday and Friday.  

In the past few weeks, there have been few formal lectures and much more time has been devoted to hands-on activities.  In one lecture, we reviewed basic spin and orbital dynamics to get a sense for the time rate of change of the Doppler shift that we need to consider in our analysis.  You may recall that motion between a source and an observer results in a Doppler shift, and the value of the Doppler shift changes as a function of time.  Students calculated the contribution due to Earth's motion and that due to the motion of exoplanets.  In another lecture, we reviewed some statistical principles that allow us to quantify the likelihood of observing random variations of a certain strength in our data.  We distinguish these chance events from actual signals by observing the time-frequency structure of the signals.  We also had a wonderful guest lecture about SETI history by Larry Lesyna, a former SETI researcher and benefactor of our SETI initiative.  This lecture was a great addition because I had covered almost none of this material.  Finally, we had a visit from Joe Lazio, Chief Scientist of the Interplanetary Network Directorate at NASA/JPL, who spoke to us about some of his scintillation research.  Both Larry and Joe also talked to some of the students about their career ambitions.
The Spring 2016 SETI class with Larry Lesyna.
Students in the UCLA SETI class working in small teams.
Apart from the lectures, most of our time has been spent writing software and analyzing data.  We designed a data processing pipeline and considered some specifications for the required software modules.  Students developed the software modules in small teams.  In order to ensure an orderly software development process, we are using a popular revision control software called "git".  This system allows several contributors to collaborate effectively on a software project.  For instance, it is possible for several contributors to work on the same software component simultaneously without creating conflicts between different versions.  It is also easy for any member of the team to download the latest features written by others.  Several surveys indicate that git is the primary source control system used by most professional software developers, so the experience with git will give our students a competitive advantage when they apply for jobs.  

The division of labor was relatively straightforward, and the students identified projects aligned with their skills and affinities.  One team worked on data calibration.  A second team worked on a tree algorithm to efficiently handle a variety of Doppler behaviors.  A third team wrote software that allows us to store all candidate detections in a relational database and to perform automatic tests to indicate whether these candidate signals are extraterrestrial or not.  Last but not least, a fourth team worked on software to create graphics showing the time-frequency behavior of any candidate detection.  It has been very satisfying to witness the teamwork and the integration of the various components into a data processing pipeline.  As I write this, students have identified thousands of candidate signals using this pipeline.  Most of the candidates are due to man-made radio frequency interference (RFI).  We are using several strategies for RFI excision.
A potentially interesting signal detected by one of the students.
On May 13, we had our second observing session, this time with the 305 m (1000 ft) diameter telescope at the Arecibo Observatory, the largest telescope on Earth.  Students were able to view the telescope monitoring and control windows projected on the classroom screens.  Our friends at Arecibo — Phil Perillat, Andrew Seymour, Robert Minchin, and Arun Venkataraman — provided excellent support, going the extra mile to ensure that we obtained excellent data.  We observed 14 exoplanets and a pulsar.  We will analyze these data over the summer with some of the students who will continue their SETI work beyond the Spring 2016 course.
The monitoring and control windows during our remote observations of 14 exoplanets using the Arecibo Observatory.
I cannot wait to see the students' presentations next week.  In the next newsletter, I will report on some of the signals that they identified in the data. 

Warm regards,

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

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