Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My Pal Lou, Looking for ET

One of my best friends from childhood was a kid named Lou Nigra.  Mrs. Cooke's class, fifth grade, Belleaire Elementary School, Bellevue, Nebraska.  He remained my friend when we both became guys, and I'm proud to say that we have remained friends as men. 

Lou has had a varied career, but he finally realized a dream that many boys of a certain generation had -- I know it was on my short list of dream professions when I was in my early adolescence.  Lou and I and our buds all grew up during the space race and the excitement of the early years of space travel and unmanned deeper-space exploration.  And, speaking now only for myself, I was a science/nature nerd.  (Was?, I can hear you asking.) 

And so there was a period of time when I was certain I was going to be an astronomer.  One day I realized it involved calculus and hard physics and almost no actually looking up at the sky through the eyepiece of a big honkin' telescope, and that was the end of that.  (Also, I noticed that it was cold at night.)   But not for Lou, who got his Ph.D. in the subject a few months ago from the University of Wisconsin.

Not only that, but he landed an extremely cool job:  He's Project Scientist for SETI Live (SETI = Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) based at the very cool Adler Planetarium in super cool Chicago, right by the fabulously cool Lakefront.   I mean, it's a damned cool life for my pal.  You can read his first blog here:

       Science in the Moment

Here's an even cooler thing -- the citizenry (that's you) can participate in the search for ET by devoting some of your computer processing power -- and, more importantly your own powers of observation -- to analyzing radio signals from outer space collected by the Allen Telescope Array.  I think you can get instructions on how to do this at the main site,  (Note that you will need a recent version of one of the popular web browsers to access this site and participate.  You can download one for free from the intro screen.)   You can get additional information by clicking on the SETILive banner and reading a couple of earlier posts by project head Jill Tarter. 

I should add that this is not related to some earlier citizen SETI efforts, like SETI@Home, where one just lent part of one's home computer to processing signals.  This one actually asks you to attempt to see patterns that might stand out from the "background noise" of the universe and call them to SETILive's attention.  I don't know exactly how it works, but it sounds like a very fun way to get involved in something we're all curious about -- who's out there broadcasting (and, we hope, listening -- unless, of course, they're murderous monsters from beyond).

Allen Telescope Array, Listening to the Universe
And keep an eye on The Science Channel, which has a sponsorship role in SETILive and will be reporting on it.  So you might see Lou himself on your TV screen holding forth on this project, with images of the Trifid Nebula or the Andromeda Galaxy in the background.  Can't miss his handsome mug (he was absolutely the fifth grade throb), he looks just like this:

Dr. Louis M. Nigra
(Can't you see him in one of the early scenes to those old-timey alien invasion movies gazing through his refractor and trying to warn the countryside of an approaching UFO?  I don't think he smokes a pipe, though.)  

It's making news elsewhere as well:
       SETI Website to Crowdsource Alien Life.

So if you want to personally join the search for ET, Lou and SETILive have what you're looking for.  If you find anything Out There, let Lou know immediately!  And then drop me a line so I can scoop the Journal of Astrophysics, not to mention Sky & Telescope.

I'll have updates as the project progresses.

*     *     *

Follow Your Cool Hot Center on Twitter:  @CoolHotCenter
Email Your Cool Hot Center:

1 comment:

  1. You're right! Love Lou, he's one cool dude.

    Department of Astronomy