Funding Dip Crimps Search for Extraterrestrials

Print Share on LinkedIn More

April 24, 2011; Source: Scientific American | E.T., if you are out there, please call us. Because of a lack of funds, the nonprofit SETI Institute – the group that searches for extraterrestrial intelligence – has been forced to temporarily shut down a field of radio dishes in Northern California that, according to Scientific American, was built to "seek out transmissions from distant alien civilizations."

In a letter last week, SETI CEO Tom Pierson wrote to donors that the group's Allen Telescope Array (ATA) would be put in "hibernation." While other telescopes can be used to detect radio transmissions from civilizations that Scientific American says "might exist elsewhere in the galaxy," SETI's telescopes were the only one entirely devoted to the task.

The group's researchers can try to borrow time on other telescopes, but according to the magazine, "Competition for observing time can be fierce." SETI had planned to build an array of 350 individual radio antennas for its ATA site that would all work in tandem to search for radio signals. During the first phase of the project, completed in 2007, the group constructed and installed 42 antennas at a cost of $50 million, with half coming from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Since then, funding for the project has slowed.

Pierson said that the SETI Institute has been working for more than two years to find new funding, including contracting with the U.S. Air Force to track orbital debris that can endanger defense satellites. "We are continuing discussions with the USAF and remain hopeful that this effort will help provide future operating funds," he wrote in his letter to donors.—Bruce Trachtenberg