Friday 7th May 2021 at 7.30 pm on Zoom

The Search for Advanced Extraterrestrial Civilisations via Anomalies in Astronomical Survey Data

Prof. Michael (Mike) Garrett
University of Manchester
Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics

Image credit: NASA

Energy-intensive civilisations are likely to have a significant impact on both their local and extended environments – we already see evidence for this here on Earth. Advanced technical civilisations may reveal themselves to other civilisations by introducing anomalous signals into astronomical data. Artificial radio signals are perhaps the best known example but there are also many other possibilities e.g. excess infra-red emission due to waste heat losses. I will present a non-exhaustive description of some of the main anomalies or “techno-signatures” that astronomers around the world are currently seeking, with a focus on the recent work being conducted at Manchester and the Breakthrough Listen initiative (BLI). BLI has recently produced its first candidate signal – BLC1 – I will  discuss this new development and the future role long-baseline interferometry can play in follow-up observations and future surveys. I will also talk about the need for astronomers to broaden our horizons – to open up our minds to new possibilities and concede that there is a lot about the Universe we do not understand. As the universe continues to evolve for billions of years to come, we speculate on whether other, non-biological forms of intelligence and consciousness, may be out there awaiting discovery.

Biography of the speaker

Prof. Michael (Mike) Garrett is the inaugural Sir Bernard Lovell Chair of Astrophysics at the University of Manchester, and Director of Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics ( He is a former director of JIVE (2003-2007) and Director General of ASTRON (2007-2016) in the Netherlands. He did his first degree at the University of Glasgow (1986) and received a Ph.D. from Manchester in 1990. 

As General Director of ASTRON, Garrett was responsible for the final design, construction, commissioning, and operational phase of the 150M€ LOFAR telescope.  He also helped define the design of the Square Kilometre Array telescope, and previously coordinated several large European projects (EXPReS, RadioNet, and ASTERICS). Garrett’s scientific interests range from studies of compact cosmic objects in our own Galaxy to investigations of high-redshift systems in the early Universe. 

Garrett has a significant interest in SETI (Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) and related public outreach activities. He is currently co-chair of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) SETI Permanent Committee, and serves on the Scientific Advisory Boards of the SETI Institute and Breakthrough Listen Initiative. In 2018, he developed a new multi-disciplinary course at the University of Manchester – Are we Alone? The course regularly attracts 150 students/yr.

The recording of this lecture is now freely available on the Virtual BRLSI YouTube channel. Please go the following link to view.

Friday 9th April 2021 at 7.30pm on Zoom,

Hipparcos and Gaia: space astrometry — unravelling the formation and evolution of our Galaxy

Dr Michael Perryman

Image credit: ESA–D. Ducros, 2013

The Hipparcos satellite project of the European Space Agency was dedicated to measuring the accurate positions of more than 100,000 stars. Doing so from space represented a fundamentally new discipline in space science. With the publication of the scientific results from the Hipparcos mission in 1997, ESA adopted the Gaia mission, a follow-on and vastly more advanced star-mapping satellite, in 2000. Gaia was launched in 2013 and continues to operate from its advantageous location at the Sun-Earth Lagrange point, L2. Gaia is measuring the positions of more than two billion stars in our Galaxy with extreme accuracy, and is set to revolutionise many areas of astronomy and astrophysics. The talk will explain why the measurement of star positions is of such scientific importance. It will review the two thousand year history of this branch of astronomy, called astrometry, explain why these measurements are being made from space, illustrate how the very exacting measurements are made in practice, and present some of the many areas of astronomy that are being impacted by these new experimental insights.

Michael Perryman obtained a degree in physics, and a PhD in radio astronomy, at Cambridge University. During a 30-year career with the European Space Agency, he was the scientific leader of the Hipparcos mission between 1981-1997, also serving as project manager during its operational phase, 1989-1993. He was the co-originator of the Gaia satellite mission, and ESA’s project scientist from its earliest concepts in 1995 until the Critical Design Review in 2008, establishing the instrument concept, technical feasibility, operational and data analysis principles, its organisational structure, and coordinating its scientific case. He was Professor of Astronomy at Leiden University, The Netherlands, between 1993-2009, and has received various awards for his leadership of space astrometry, including the Gold Medal of the French Astronomical Society, the Academy Medal of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts & Sciences, and the Tycho Brahe Prize of the European Astronomical Society. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Lund University in Sweden in 2010, and was the Bohdan Paczynski Visiting Professor, Princeton University, in 2013.

The recording of this lecture is now freely available on the Virtual BRLSI YouTube channel. Please go the following link to view.