Choosing a Maximum Drift Rate in a SETI Search: Astrophysical Considerations

Sofia Z. Sheikh, Jason T. Wright, Andrew Siemion, J. Emilio Enriquez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


A radio transmitter that is accelerating with a non-zero radial component with respect to a receiver will produce a signal that appears to change its frequency over time. This effect, commonly produced in astrophysical situations where orbital and rotational motions are ubiquitous, is called a drift rate. In radio SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) research, it is unknown a priori which frequency a signal is being sent at, or even if there will be any drift rate at all besides motions within the solar system. Therefore drift rates across the potential range need to be individually searched and a maximum drift rate needs to be chosen. The middle of this range is zero, indicating no acceleration, but the absolute value for the limits remains unconstrained. A balance must be struck between computational time and the possibility of excluding a signal from an ETI. In this work, we examine physical considerations that constrain a maximum drift rate and highlight the importance of this problem in any narrowband SETI search. We determine that a normalized drift rate of 200 nHz (e.g., 200 Hz s-1 at 1 GHz) is a generous, physically motivated guideline for the maximum drift rate that should be applied to future narrowband SETI projects if computational capabilities permit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number14
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 10 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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