Byurakan SETI conferences (1964 and 1971)

Byurakan SETI conferences in 1964 and 1971 were two important early meetings on the subject of SETI held at the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory. The 1964 Conference on Extraterrestrial Civilizations stemmed from discussions by Shklovskii's group at the Sternberg State Astronomical Institute and was organized by Nikolai Kardashev. Held three years after the seminal Green Bank conference (1961), it was attended entirely by radio astronomers and had as its aim "to obtain rational technical and linguistic solutions for the problem of communication with extraterrestrial civilizations which are much more advanced than the Earth civilization." The emphasis on (a) communication, and (b) the broadcasting of powerful signals by highly advanced intelligence from great distances (possibly even extragalactic), was in contrast to the greater attention paid in the United States to searching for messages from nearby stars and civilizations more on a par with our own. The Soviet approach was typified by Kardashev's classification scheme for technological races (see Kardashev civilizations) and Troitskii's interest in the possibility of detecting signals from other galaxies.1


The 1971 Byurakan conference was the first international SETI meeting and was sponsored by the Academies of Sciences of both the Soviet Union and the United States. Ambartsumian, Kardashev, Shklovskii, and Troitskii carried out the organization on the Soviet side, while Drake, Morrison, and Sagan performed the same function on the American side. Participants included 28 Soviets, 15 Americans, and 4 scientists from other nations. Radio search methods, techniques and consequences of contact, message content, and extraterrestrial astroengineering were among the topics discussed. A tentative conclusion of the conference was that there might be a million technical civilizations in the Galaxy, although it was recognized that the Drake Equation gave a subjective rather than an objective probability.2



1. Tovmasyan, G. M., ed. Extraterrestrial Civilizations: Proceedings of the First All-Union Conference on Extraterrestrial Civilizations and Interstellar Communication, May 1023, 1964, trans. from the Russian. Jerusalem: Israel Program for Scientific Translations (1967).
2. "First Soviet-American Conference on Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence," Icarus, 16, 412 (1972).