Aliens, Call Back Later: SETI Suspended

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Note to ET: Try back later

The SETI Institute is suspending its search for extraterrestrial radio beacons using its most advanced alien signal-seeking tool while it hunts for new sources of funding.

The privately financed group, based in Mountain View, Calif., has been using an array of radio telescopes at Hat Creek Observatory, about 300 miles north of San Francisco, since October 2007, to study stars for non-naturally occurring radio signals that could indicate the presence of a technologically advanced civilization beyond Earth.

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Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen provided an initial $25 million for the project, which is known as the Allen Telescope Array. The network eventually is intended to have 350 telescopes. The University of California at Berkeley, the National Science Foundation and several corporate and individual donors provided operating funds.

Budget cutbacks by the state of California and the NSF, however, have hit the project hard. Not only was the expansion postponed, now the search for ET itself is on hold.

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In a blog post on Friday, astronomer Franck Marchis, who is not involved in SETI research but who works at institutes that are, disclosed that operations of the Allen Telescope Array have been suspended.

In addition to SETI work, the observatory shutdown impacts mainstream radio astronomy projects, such as a survey of extragalactic radio sources.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however. Since 2009, writes Marchis, the Air Force has been looking at using the Allen Telescope Array to keep track of orbital debris whizzing around the planet.

Writes Marchis:

The future of the ATA may depend of the US Air Force program. Unfortunately, because of the recent federal finance turmoil, no clear decision has been taken with enough time to keep the observatory running. Since April 15, the observatory is in hibernation. All the equipments have been taken care of to make sure that they do not deteriorate over time.

Hope ET is patient with us.

Image: ET, we’re not listening. Credit: SETI Institute