In Greek mythology, the many-eyed guardian god Argus scrutinized every direction simultaneously. When Argus was dead, his eyes were put on to the peacock's tail. In the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, the SETI League's Project Argus will be similarly all-seeing, constantly surveying the entire sky at radio frequencies. But Project Argus is a confederation of amateurs. How can it compete with professional SETI searches? In a word, coverage.
Professional telescopes are sensitive to very weak signals. But sensitivity requires a large collecting area (typically, 2 - 4000 square metres), which can only look at a small piece of sky (about the size of the moon). Such SETI searches also have to compete with professional astronomy projects, and can observe for only a few weeks each year. Meanwhile, 5000 dedicated home SETI stations (based on a TV satellite dish (collecting area up to about 10 square metres) and a personal computer) can cover the entire sky for 24 hours every day.
Huge numbers of amateur astronomers and ham radio enthusiasts around the world have the interest and skills which will make Project Argus a reality. The first Argus station went online in April 1996, and there are already 50 working stations (see www.setileague.org). Project Argus will be fully operational within the next few years, constantly searching the radio frequencies known as 'The Waterhole' across the whole sky for any artificial signals of non-terrestrial origin which might arrive at our planet.
If we do detect a signal which is neither natural (astronomical) nor resulting from human activity, this will be a discovery of immense philosphical importance. We will finally know the answer to an age-old question: Is humanity the only intelligent, technological, civilized race in the Universe? Are we alone?
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this page last updated 28 December 2002
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