Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Search for ET Put on Hold

The Allen Telescope Array, a major instrument designed to speed up our hunt for intelligent beings elsewhere in the galaxy, has been turned off.

On April 15, this phalanx of small antennas, built to eavesdrop on signals that might reach us from civilizations hundreds of trillions of miles distant, was put into park, and its multimillion channel receivers powered down. It's as if Columbus's armada of ships, having barely cleared Cadiz, were suddenly ordered back to Spain.

The reason for the shutdown is both prosaic and lamentable. Money. The Array was built as a joint project between the SETI Institute (my employer) and the University of California at Berkeley's Radio Astronomy Laboratory. The former raised the funds to construct the instrument, and UC Berkeley was responsible for operations. But the grievous financial situation of the State of California and reduced funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) have sharply curtailed the university's research budget, and private donations haven't yet been adequate to keep the Array in operation.

In tough economic times, a lot of folks who hear this story will dismiss its importance. After all, with problems like expensive health care, a weakened education system, and pervasive joblessness, it's unlikely that people are going to march in the streets to get the hunt for ET back on track. They're more likely to shake their heads, and profess that this sort of exploration is superfluous. ...

via Seth Shostak: Search for ET Put on Hold.

Federal and state funding cutbacks for operations of U.C. Berkeley’s Hat Creek Radio Observatory (HCRO) force hibernation of Allen Telescope Array – In an April 22, 2011 email (PDF) to Allen Telescope Array stakeholder level donors, SETI Institute CEO Tom Pierson described in detail the recent decision by U.C. Berkeley, our partner in the Array, to reduce operations of the Hat Creek Radio Observatory (and thus the Allen Telescope Array) to a hibernation state effective this month. NSF University Radio Observatory funding to Berkeley for HCRO operations has been reduced to approximately one-tenth of its former level and, concurrently, growing State of California budget shortfalls have severely reduced the amount of state funds available for support of the HCRO site. ...

Public help is neededDonate now – Help return the ATA to operations and support the exciting SETI exploration of the Kepler planets over the next two years.