By Marlin (Ben) Schuetz, Director, Boquete Optical SETI Observatory
With clear skies and only little wind during March and the first half of April the weather was excellent for SETI searches. The 2.5 to 3 hour observing sessions logged an average of 20 stars a night. Added to that, the instruments all performed well and the recent photometer improvements have exceeded expectations. My month’s successes were even topped off with fixing a nagging problem with the car. What’s not to like?
The latest ideas for improving photometer performance were long in coming, yet simple to implement. Evaluation of the changes involved many hours of data collection and evaluation, but they paid off with a greater useful range of visual magnitudes and improved sensitivity to pulsed signals. Just a few weeks ago I was thinking that this photometer had about reached its performance limit and it was time to start working on a new design. Now it is clear that there are yet more things that can be done before having to build a new box.
Also noteworthy has been the improvement in signal detectability using the spectrum analyzer’s (Spectrum Labs) autocorrelation feature. According to Wikipedia (and cut down a bit), autocorrelation is the cross-correlation of a signal with itself at different points in time. Informally, it is the similarity between observations as a function of the time lag between them. It is a mathematical tool for finding repeating patterns, such as the presence of a periodic signal obscured by noise. I started using it about a month ago and found that it could prominently display signals that were otherwise only marginally observable.
Bruce Howard (Owl Observatory) has finished the machined parts for upgrading the telescope mechanical drives. They will be here in about a month. Installing those parts and associated electronics will be big job for the upcoming rainy season. The upgrades will improve the telescope’s targeting speed and accuracy and reduce the observer’s workload.
METI International has been assisting with efforts to find a summer intern to help with the various projects. Candidate selection will be made soon after the application closing date of May 1. Joan and I are looking forward to hosting the intern and confident that those months will be mutually interesting and productive.
Clouds have been gathering recently and today we had the first rain in about two months. The beginning of the wet season isn’t expected for another month or so, but today was a reminder that the good nights for observing are slipping away. I hope to do a little better job arranging my daytime activities for more evening hours at the observatory.
That’s a really brief description of the considerable happenings of the last 6 weeks. I’m eager to see how the next month plays out.