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SETI Astronomers Launch New Campaign to Eavesdrop on E.T.

In a vast cosmic experimentequivalent to hitting "redial,"astronomers in a dozen countries are aiming telescopes to listen inonce again onsome of the stars that were part of the world's first search for alienlife 50years ago.

The coordinated signal-searchingcampaign began this monthto mark the 50th anniversary of Project Ozma, a 1960 experiment thatwaschristened the world's first real attempt in the searchfor extraterrestrial intelligence ? or SETI.

Like Project Ozma, which got its namefrom a character in L.Frank Baum's series of books about the Land of Oz, the new search iscalledProject Dorothy.

Project Ozma was conducted by astronomerFrank Drake of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif.Drake is alsofamous for devising the Drake equation, which predicts the number of alien civilizations withwhom we might be able tocommunicate. The formula is based on factors including the rate of starformation in the galaxy and the percentage of stars thought to haveplanets.Making educated guesses for some of the equation's terms, scientistshave usedit to predict we could find evidence of ETintelligence within the next 25 years

"It is thrilling for me to witnessthe beginnings ofProject Dorothy, the continuation of my search of 50 years ago," Drakesaid in a SETI announcement. "To have so many talented people using somany telescopes in this new search, with the electronics and computerequipmentof today, is a joyful thing to me. The equipment of today is far betterthanwhat we could have 50 years ago and will result in both very muchbetter andvery much more data than could be obtained then."

The anniversary observations, whichbegan Nov. 5, will continuethroughout the month. Astronomers in Australia, Japan, Korea, Italy,theNetherlands, France, Argentina and the United States are taking thefirstshifts, searching for signs of an intelligent civilization from a fewnearbystars. [Q&Awith SETI Pioneer Jill Tarter]

Astronomer Shin-ya Narusawa ofNishi-Harima AstronomicalObservatory in Japan, who launched Project Dorothy, said: "Two of theoriginal stars from ProjectOzma ? Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani ? are the nearestsolar-type stars inthe northern hemisphere. Therefore, these two stars were the best SETItargetsa half century ago. They remain the symbol of Project Ozma and are twoof thetarget stars for Project Dorothy."

The new search includes someparticularly promising targetsfor extraterrestrial intelligence, including stars with known planets,whichmodern telescopes were only recently able to detect. The scientists areaimingfor stellar systems where planets are thought to orbit at roughly therightdistance from their suns to hold liquid water and thus, possibly, life.

"Project Dorothy vividly demonstratesjust how far SETIhas come in the past 50 years," said the SETI Institute's DouglasVakoch,who is a member of Project Dorothy's working group. "The lessonslearnedthrough Project Dorothy provide critical preparation for the day wefinallydetect a signal from another civilization."

Though the searches undertaken byastronomers at the SETIInstitute and elsewhere over the past 50 years have not foundindications of littlegreen men, experts say it's too early to give up hope.

"Over the past 50 years our searcheshave not yetproduced the discovery we all hope for," Drake said. "This isunderstandable ? in our vast and awesome universe it will take long,painstaking and comprehensive searches before we will have a goodchance ofsuccess. This is the major lesson learned from previous searches.ProjectDorothy is a major step in meeting the challenge created by thislesson."

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Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.