The SETI Chronology
1959: Drs. Philip Morrison and Giuseppe Cocconi publish in Nature
magazine the first modern SETI article, "Searching for Interstellar
Communication," which indicated the potential of using microwave radio for
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.
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.
Drs. Carl Sagan and I.S. Shkolovskii write "Intelligent Life in the
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
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.
- 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.
Ohio State University begins a major SETI project at its Big Ear Observatory in
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.
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
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.
Dr. Paul Horowitz's suitcase SETI is tested at the Arecibo radio telescope,
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.
Dr. Michael Papagiannis launches Bioastronomy News, the official newsletter of
the International Astronmical Union's Commission 51.
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
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
Robert Stephens begins a Canadian search from the Hay River Radio Observatory,
Hay River, Northwest Territories, Canada. His 21 cm search receives Planetary
Society support in 1987, but ends with the closing of HRRO in 1988 due to lack
1986: UC-Berkeley's SERENDIP II begins to scan the skies.
1988: The Planetary Society organizes an international meeting on SETI in Toronto, Canada.
Robert Stephens establishes Project TARGET (Telescope Antenna Researching
Galactic Extraterrestrial Transmissions) SETI Program at Algonquin Radio
Observatory. Program operates 21cm search continuously from 1988-1991. Program
comes to unexpected halt with closure of ARO in 1991.
The Planetary Society takes over the publishing of "Bioastronomy News"
as one of its special-interest newsletters.
The Columbus Optical SETI (COSETI) Observatory, developed by OSETI pioneer Dr.
Stuart A. Kingsley, becomes the first optical SETI research facility in North
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
OSETI II, the second SPIE Conference, is held under the direction of Dr.
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
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.
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
1996: The SETI Institute's Project Phoenix resumes its targeted search from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Green Bank WV.
"Invitation to ETI" SETI project is launched on the World Wide Web.
(The invitation is now issued by 60 SETI and Contact scientists.)
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.
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
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.
2000: The Allen Telescope Array Project can be used
by both radio astronomers and SETI scientists all the time. Should be partially
operational in 2004 and fully operational in 2005