Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research

Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research

Symphonies of the Cosmic Dark: An Astro-Musical Approach to Search the Skies for Signs of Life


Anahita Sarvi


Alannah Rosenberg, Professor of Economics, Saddleback College

In recent times, radio telescopes have observed newly discovered planets throughout the Milky Way Galaxy. Meanwhile, computers have sieved through gathered radio signals for signs of intelligent life. However, the ability of the human brain—particularly its auditory system—to detect indistinct patterns in polluted data provides a promising, yet largely unexplored opportunity for advancement in the prospect of spotting a distant call in the cosmic dark.
Among other research organizations, SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute aims to harness the capacity of the human eye for pattern recognition, and to thus surpass the effectiveness of computers in analyzing data polluted with Earth-based radio interference. Studies have shown that the auditory system presents still stronger mechanisms for data analysis: The brain can accurately process cluttered auditory input, distinguish among concurrent sounds, and recognize alternative versions of a musical composition through the extraction of unchanging musical elements. These processes may enable recognition of recurrent patterns in data, and distinction between interference and non-interference signals. Such flexible biological mechanisms thus differ from computer algorithms, which rely solely on predetermined programming based on predictable contexts. The brain’s fluent analysis of varying sound patterns in an orchestra can be cultivated in the analogous context of an observation with varying signal patterns: Radio frequencies may be converted into notes within a musical scale, where the strength, pulsation, and frequency of signals correspond with musical elements of loudness, rhythm, and pitch, respectively.
The quest for intelligent life among 400 billion stars in the Milky Way is propelled by the abundance of newly discovered planets. A multi-faceted approach to such undertakings—drawing on biological, musical, and scientific aspects of humankind—would cultivate the unique abilities of the auditory system, and may thus launch discoveries unprecedented in the history of a terraqueous globe and its technologically and musically inclined inhabitants.

Presented by:

Anahita Sarvi


Saturday, November 17, 2012


2:00 PM — 2:15 PM


Bell Tower 1422

Presentation Type:

Oral Presentation