Some thoughts after the VASCO-i event

The first VASCO workshop that was held in Uppsala 1 – 3rd of February 2018. It took place in a small room at the ITC – in the former military quarters which now is part of the physical science and engineering campus of Uppsala University. The workshop was a joint astronomy and IT workshop, where transient astronomy, SETI and machine learning were in focus. The VASCO project itself is a cross-disciplinary IT/astronomy project, where the latest progresses in machine learning are used to create the tools necessary to carry out the conceptually easy-but-technically advanced project of ours. During the workshop, we heard contrasting talks which yet complemented each other as they targeted different perspectives needed to carry out our project. To mention just a few (while I’d love to mention all of them!), Pete Worden, chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation and executive director of Breakthrough Starshot, gave an inspiring and optimistic talk about their activities. Lawrence Murray showed a powerful code developed for probabilistic programming, that can be particularly useful in ranking the “vanishing candidates” we find by interestingness. Machine learning and its role in studying football players and the movement of fish, were demonstrated by David Sumpter. On the last day, we discussed the prospects for making the VASCO-machinery we have built and designed to actually run and work with the acquired samples.

Perhaps, this is what makes VASCO a “recyclable” SETI-project; while the ultimate goals may be typical of any high-risk, ultra-high gain project in science where the gains are uncertain and with fairly unpredictable implications, the challenges we face on our way there will certainly provoke new development in IT methods. Likewise, other extremely variable sources that we expect to find along the way will make the effort more than meaningful, even if we wouldn’t discover a single physically vanishing star. By making sure that side results happen, the risky nature of the ultimate goal is transformed into a valuable road for both IT experts and astronomers. Meanwhile, we can run VASCO and carefully study whatever object the exotic Universe will serve us.

– Beatriz Villarroel

Some thoughts after the VASCO-i event

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