Shannon Atkinson

Shannon Atkinson
Chief Financial Officer

Shannon Atkinson is the Institute's Chief Financial Officer. That means that all financial aspects of the Institute pass under Shannon's expert gaze. She prepares and monitors the budgets, manages investments, and provides various financial analyses to top management to aid them in their decision making.

Optical SETI

The SETI Institute, along with scientists from the University of California's Lick Observatory, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Berkeley has coupled the Lick Observatory's 40-inch Nickel Telescope with a new pulse-detection system capable of finding laser beacons from civilizations many light-years distant. Unlike other optical SETI searches, this experiment is largely immune to false alarms, due to a novel approach incorporating 3 light detectors.

"This is perhaps the most sensitive optical SETI search yet undertaken," said Frank Drake, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe. 

Drake, who in 1960 conducted the first modern hunt for evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence, is usually associated with radio SETI, an approach in which large antennas are connected to specialized, multi-million channel receivers.

"This is different," noted Drake. "We are looking for very brief but powerful pulses of laser light from other planetary systems, rather than the steady whine of a radio transmitter."

While optical SETI has been undertaken before, it is only recently that major experiments, scrutinizing hundreds or even thousands of star systems, have been initiated. This is largely the consequence of a study conducted by the SETI Institute during the years 1997 - 1999 which showed that new technology has made optical SETI an appealing approach for finding technologically sophisticated civilizations. 

However, unlike its radio counterpart, optical SETI requires that any extraterrestrial civilization be deliberately signaling in the direction of our solar system.

The experiment is unique in exploiting three light detectors (photomultipliers) to search for bright pulses that arrive in a short period of time (less than a billionth of a second). Of course, light from the central star will trigger the detectors as well, but seldom will all three photomultipliers be hit by photons within a billionth of a second time frame. The expected number of false alarms for the stars being looked at is about one per year. Other optical SETI experiments use only one or two detectors and have been plagued by false alarms occurring on a daily basis. 
Starlight, cosmic rays, muon showers, and radioactive decays in the glass of photomultiplier tubes can all contribute confusing "events" to optical SETI searches. 

"One great advantage of optical SETI is that there's no terrestrial interference," comments Drake. "It's an exciting new field."

Where We Are

Location of the SETI Institute and Directions

Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures Series

Wednesday, May 18 2011 - 7:00 pm, PDT

Foothill College

Multiple Universes and Cosmic Inflation: The Quest to Understand Our Universe (and Find Others)

Nontechnical Talk Open to the Public

On Wednesday, May 18th, 2011, at 7 pm,
Professor Anthony Aguirre, of the University
of California at Santa Cruz, will give a non-technical,
illustrated talk on:

Multiple Universes and Cosmic Inflation:
The Quest to Understand Our Universe (and Find Others)

as part of the Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures
in the Smithwick Theater, Foothill College,
El Monte Road and Freeway 280,
in Los Altos Hills, California.

Free and open to the public.
Parking on campus costs $2.

Call the series hot-line at 650-949-7888 for
more information and driving directions.

No background in science will be required for
this talk.

About a decade ago, scientists completed a great transformation
in the understanding of our cosmos, establishing a broad and deep
understanding of how the observable universe has evolved from a
hot, dense state 13.7 billion years ago. Yet a second, even bigger
transformation may now be taking place, because this understanding
points to an early epoch during which the universe expanded at a
stupendous rate to create the vast amount of space we can observe.

Cosmologist are now coming to believe that this "cosmic inflation" may
do much more: in many versions, inflation goes on forever, generating
not just our observable universe but also infinitely many such regions
with similar or different properties, together forming a staggeringly
complex and vast "multiverse". Dr. Aguirre will trace the genesis of this
idea, explore some of its implications, and discuss how cosmologists
are currently seeking ways to test this idea by actually searching for hints
of other "universes".

Don't miss this introduction to one of the most mind-boggling parts of
modern astronomy!

Anthony Aguirre received his Ph.D. in Astronomy from Harvard University,
then spent three years as a member of the Institute for Advanced Study
in Princeton before joining physics department of the University of California
at Santa Cruz. Aguirre has worked on a wide variety of topics in theoretical
cosmology (the branch of astronomy that takes as its subject the origin,
properties, and ultimate fate of the entire universe.) One of his research
interests concerns "eternal inflation", the idea that the universe evolved
forever, endlessly spawning "bubbles" or "pockets" with potentially diverse
properties. Aguirre has also studied the nature of dark matter, black holes,
the first stars, intergalactic dust, and the arrow of time, and serves as
Associate Scientific Direction of the of the independent nonprofit
Foundational Questions Institute.

The lecture is co-sponsored by:
* NASA Ames Research Center
* The Foothill College Astronomy Program
* The SETI Institute
* The Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

Past Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures are now available
in MP3 format at:

Laboratory Studies of Water Ice Cloud formation under Martian Conditions

Water ice clouds are an important part of the martian hydrological cycle, influencing the water and energy budgets. Microphysical models can be used to study the connections between cloud formation and water distribution throughout the system (for example, as surface frost layers), but only if the intricacies of cloud formation and growth are understood and properly parameterized. To that end, we have performed laboratory studies of water ice nucleation on a variety of surrogate materials and have found that initiation of ice is more difficult than often presumed.

Mission to a Potentially Threatening Asteroid

Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) are interesting to both planetary scientists and those who are concerned about protecting against their impacts. The first step, now well underway, is to find them (with the Spacegaurd Survey). Next we need to characterize NEAs using small spacecraft missions. We are especially interested in the sub-km NEAs, since they are the most likely to hit the Earth and also the most accessible targets for human flights beyond the Moon. This talk focuses on a low-cost rendezvous mission to NEA Apophis, with the goal of characterizing both the asteroid and its orbit.


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