A Brief SETI Chronology

Compiled by Robert M. Owen


COSETI Home Page

1959: Drs. Philip Morrison and Guiseppe Coconni publish in Nature magazine the first modern SETI article, "Searching for Interstellar Communication," which indicated the potential of using microwave radio for extraterrestrial communication.

1960: The first SETI search, Project Ozma, is conducted by Dr. Frank Drake at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, WV using an 85-foot antenna tuned to the 21 cm (1,420 Mhz) line of neutral hydrogen.

1961: The optical approach to SETI using continuous wave laser beacons is proposed by Drs. Robert Schwartz and Charles Townes.

1961: The first SETI Conference, Order of the Dolphin, is held at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, WV. Dr. Drake introduces as its agenda what is now know as the Drake Equation, a controversial statistical method for estimating the number of advanced technological civilizations in the Milky Way Galaxy.

1962: Following studies of Barnard's Star spanning his entire professional career, Dr. Peter van de Kamp concludes that the proper motion of this star can best be explained by the presence of one or more planets. Today, the question of planets surrounding Barnard's Star remains unresolved.

1966: Drs. Carl Sagan and I.S. Shkolovskii write "Intelligent Life in the Universe."

1971: A NASA study team, Project Cyclops, is convened to create the design of an array of up to 1000 radio telescopes to detect Earth-type radio signals up to 1000 light-years away. Costs prevent implementation of the proposal at this time.

1971: Drs. Carl Sagan, Frank Drake, and Phil Morrison join Russian scientists at the joint US-USSR SETI Conference in Byurakan, Armenia, Soviet Union.

1972: NASA publishes "Project Cylops, A Design Study of a System for Detecting Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life." Interest is now significant, and all 10,000 copies are quickly distributed.

1972 - 1973:The Pioneer Plaques, containing a message about our Earth, destined for points beyond our solar system, are launched on the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 space probes.

1973: Ohio State University begins a major SETI project at its Big Ear Observatory in Delaware, Ohio [see l997].

1974: The Arecibo Radio Telescope receives a major upgrade, and Dr. Drake sends an historic test transmission.

1977: The Ohio State Big Ear telescope detects the famous "Wow!" narrowband signal from the Constellation Sagittarius.

1977: Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space probes launched. They carry gold-plated records containing images and sounds of Earth.

1978: Cosmic Search magazine is first published by Dr. John Kraus; Vol. 1 No. 2 contains Dr. Sagan's influential "The Quest for Extraterrestrial Intelligence." Publication terminated in 1981, after thirteen issues.

1979: The Planetary Society is founded by Drs. Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman.

1979: The Search for Extraterrestrial Radio from Nearby Developed Populations (Project SERENDIP I) launches at UC Berkeley's Hat Creek Observatory.

1981: The Proxmire Amendment kills Congressional support of NASA SETI

1981: International SETI Conference, Talliinn, Soviet Union. Because the Proxmire Amendment prevented US scientists from participating, The Planetary Society sends US delegates to the meeting.

1981: The Planetary Society begins strong advocacy for NASA to conduct searches for extraterrestrial signals. Dr. Sagan, then president of the Society, persuades Senator Proxmire to stop opposition.

1982: NASA begins SETI searches with The High Resolution Microwave Survey (HRMS).

1982: Dr. George Gatewood conducts extrasolar planet search at Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

1983: Dr. Paul Horowitz's suitcase SETI is tested at the Arecibo radio telescope, Puerto Rico.

1983: The International Astronomical Union establishes Commission 51, dedicated to bioastronomy and the search for extraterrestrial life.

1983: Drs. Samuel Gulkis and Thomas Kuiper begin a southern hemisphere search focused on water vapor lines at the 64-meter DSN antenna in Australia.

1983: Dr. Michael Papagiannis launches Bioastronomy News, the official newsletter of the International Astronmical Union's Commission 51.

1983: Dr. Horowitz launches Project Sentinel, with the help of The Planetary Society, using the 26-meter-diameter (84-foot) radio telescope at Harvard Massachusetts.

1984: The SETI Institute is founded as a home for research investigating all aspects of life in the Universe. Initially, Institute activities were supported by NASA.

1985: The Mega-Channel Extraterrestrial Assay (Project META) begins at the Oak Ridge Observatory in Harvard Massachusetts, scanning 8.4 million 0.05 Hz channels. The project is sponsored by a generous grant from film director Steven Spielberg.

1986: UC-Berkeley's SERENDIP II begins to scan the skies.

1987: Robert Stephens begins a Canadian search from the Hay River Radio Observatory, Hay River, Northwest Territories, Canada.

1988: The Planetary Society organizes an international meeting on SETI in Toronto, Canada.

1989: The Planetary Society takes over the publishing of "Bioastronomy News" as one of its special-interest newsletters.

1990: The Columbus Optical SETI (COSETI) Observatory, developed by OSETI pioneer Dr. Stuart A. Kingsley, becomes the first optical SETI research facility in North America.

1990: Project META II becomes operational outside Buenos Aires, Argentina, with the support of The Planetary Society.

1992: UC Berkeley launches SERENDIP III.

1992: NASA's HRMS observations are launched at Goldstone Observatory outside Barstow, California and at the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.

1993: Dr. Kingsley organizes the first OSETI Conference, sponsored by The International Society For Optical Engineering (SPIE).

1993: Funding for NASA's HRMS searches is eliminated by the US Congress.

1994: The SETI League is founded by Richard Factor, President, who appoints Dr. H. Paul Shuch its Executive Director; the League will become the world's major privatized SETI observational program.

1994: SETIQuest magazine founded by Mr. Carl Helmers, publisher, and Mr. Larry Klaes, editor. Helmers was inspired to start SETIQuest in part by the OSETI work of Dr. Kingsley, whom Klaes had introduced to Helmers. Publication terminated in 1998, after sixteen issues.

1995: The SETI league first accepts charter memberships (it has since grown to 1100 members in 56 countries).

1995: The SETI Institute launches Project Phoenix, a privatized continuation of the NASA HRMS targeted search, using the 210-foot Parkes radio telescope in New South Wales, Australia, the largest radio telescope in the southern hemisphere. Observations continue for six months.

1995: The Billion-Channel Extraterrestrial Assay (Project BETA) begins SETI observation from the Harvard radio telescope in Massachusetts.

1995: 51 Pegasi B, first confirmed planet around a nearby Sun-like star, announced by Drs. Michel Mayor and Dedier Queloz. By 1999, roster of confirmed exoplanets grows to over twenty.

1996: OSETI II, the second SPIE Conference, is held under the direction of Dr. Kingsley.

1996: The SETI League launches Project Argus all-sky survey with 5 stations (now 82, which is probably more RA telescopes than exist collectively in the rest of the world).

1996: "Project Cyclops, Second Printing" is jointly published by The SETI League and The SETI Institute.

1996: The Planetary Society funds Project SERENDIP IV at UC Berkeley.

1996: After being shut down for one year due to equipment upgrades financed by the Planetary Society, a more powerful Project META II resumes sky searches in Argentina.

1996: The SETI Institute's Project Phoenix resumes its targeted search from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Green Bank WV.

1996: "Invitation to ETI" SETI project is launched on the World Wide Web. (The invitation is now issued by 60 SETI and Contact scientists.)

1997: At the University of California, Berkeley, Leuschner Observatory, The Optical SETI Pulse Search, directed by Dan Werthimer, begins.

1997: SERENDIP IV is installed at the 305 meter Arecibo Radio Telescope in a piggybacking configuration that permits continuous signal analysis, even when the major instrument is in use by other astronomers

1997: The Ohio State Big Ear SETI project is listed in "The Guinness Book World Records" as the longest ETI Search in History, just as Big Ear is being demolished to make way for a golf course. End of Project.

1998: Optical SETI is becoming accepted by the SETI establishment previously dominated by radio astronomers who had questioned the viability of OSETI as a search mode; both The SETI Institute and The Planetary Society now support searching for light signals.

1998: The SETI Institute's Project Phoenix continues its targeted search from the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico.

1998: The Harvard/Smithsonian Optical SETI program, directed by Dr. Horowitz, becomes operational at the Oak Ridge Observatory.

1998: Southern SERENDIP (a second piggyback SETI program using components from Berkeley's SERENDIP IV begins at the Parkes 64 Meter Radio Telescope at New South Wales, Australia.

1999: SETI@home, a new screen saver program that taps into the power of home computers, has the potential of radically changing SETI program design in the future of ET searches.



The author's request for additional material following the initial draft publication produced a wealth of information from many contributors. I regret that I cannot mention them all, but wish especially to thank The SETI League and its Director, Dr. H. Paul Shuch, and President, Mr. Richard Factor; Mr. Larry Klaes; the COSETI Research Facility, Dr. Stuart A. Kingsley, Director; The SETI Institute, Dr. Frank Drake, President and Mr. Tom Pierson, Executive Director; Dr. Allen Tough for the inspiration provided by his outstanding Articles on SETI; The Planetary Society, Dr. Louis Friedman, Executive Director and Ms. Catherine Middleton; for their generous assistance in the preparation of this document.


Version 1.0
October 8, 1999

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