Monday, July 4, 2016

Project Ozma

Project Ozma. If that sounds like something out of this world...its because it IS! And it has its roots right here in West Virginia.

Project Ozma was the very first attempt ever at using radio telescopes to search for signs of extraterrestrial life, and was the brainchild of Frank Drake, a radio astronomer.  Using an 85 foot radio telescope, located at West Virginia's own National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, the project lasted from April 8, 1960 to July of 1960. For six hours a day, resulting in over 200 hours of data, the telescope was aimed at  two stars: Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani.

The hope was that these stars, similar in size, age and temperature to our own sun, would be most likely to have inhabitable planets in their orbits. Unfortunately, no alien radio signals were ever picked up. There was a brief false positive resulting from a confidential military operation, but no actual proof that anyone out there (at least from Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani) were sending out any signals. Still the project wasn't a total failure. It was an important milestone in the creation of SETI---the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Today, that work is still being carried out at the observatory in Green Bank, WV, and it is accepted that we here in the Mountain State would be the first recipients of any extraterrestrial messages that may come in in the future. Keep your eyes on the skies, and here in West Virginia, the scientists at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory will keep their ears open!

Oh, and the name for Project Ozma? The inspiration for that was from the Wizard of Oz books by L. Frank Baum. Ozma is the Princess of Oz, "a land far away, peopled by strange and exotic beings." In later books in the series, she was able to keep in touch with the 'real' world with a special phone. Sounds like a perfect name for such a project, to me!

Sources and Further Reading
SETI Institute: Project Ozma
Mitton, Jacqueline. Informania: Aliens, published by Candlewick Press
Green Bank Observatory: Tours open to the public

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