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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2011 > Apr > Apr 26

SETI Institute Suspends Search For Aliens

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <post.nul>
Date: Tue, 26 Apr 2011 08:13:42 -0400
Archived: Tue, 26 Apr 2011 08:13:42 -0400
Subject: SETI Institute Suspends Search For Aliens

Source: The San Jose Mercury News



SETI Institute Suspends Search For Aliens

By Lisa M. Krieger

If E.T. phones Earth, he'll get a "disconnect" signal.

Lacking the money to pay its operating expenses, Mountain View's
SETI Institute has pulled the plug on the renowned Allen
Telescope Array, a field of radio dishes - popularized in the
Jodie Foster film "Contact" - that scan the skies for signals
from extraterrestrial civilizations.

In an April 22 letter to donors, SETI Institute CEO Tom Pierson
said that last week the array was put into "hibernation," safe
but nonfunctioning, because of inadequate government support.

The timing couldn't be worse, say SETI scientists. After
millenniums of musings, this spring astronomers announced that
1,235 new possible planets had been observed by Kepler, a
telescope on a space satellite. They predict that dozens of
these planets will be Earth-sized - and some will be in the
"habitable zone," where the temperatures are just right for
liquid water, a prerequisite of life as we know it.

"There is a huge irony," said SETI Director Jill Tartar, "that a
time when we discover so many planets to look at, we don't have
the operating funds to listen."

SETI senior astronomer Seth Shostak compared the project's
suspension to "the Ni=F1a, Pinta and Santa Maria being put into
dry dock. "... This is about exploration, and we want to keep
the thing operational. It's no good to have it sit idle.

"We have the radio antennae up, but we can't run them without
operating funds," he added.

"Honestly, if everybody contributed just 3 extra cents on their
1040 tax forms, we could find out if we have cosmic company."

The SETI Institute's mission is to explore the origin, nature
and prevalence of life in the universe. This is a profound
search, it believes, because it explains our place among the

The program, located on U.S. Forest Service land near Mount
Shasta, uses telescopes to listen for anything out of the
ordinary - a numerical sequence of "beeps," say, or crackly
dialogue from an alien version of a disembodied "Charlie"
talking to his "Angels." The entire program was set up to prove
what once seemed unthinkable: In the universe, we are not alone.

Lack of funding

But funding for SETI has long been a headache for E.T.-seekers.
NASA bankrolled some early projects, but in 1994, Sen. Richard
Bryan of Nevada convinced Congress that it wasn't worth the
cost, calling it the "Great Martian Chase" and complaining that
not a single flying saucer had applied for FAA approval.

However, successful private funding came from donors such as
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, allowing SETI to raise $50
million to build the 42 dishes.

Plans called for construction of 350 individual radio antennas,
all working in concert. But what's lacking now is funding to
support the day-to-day costs of running the dishes.

This is the responsibility of UC Berkeley's Radio Astronomy
Laboratory, but one of the university's major funders, the
National Science Foundation, supplied only one-tenth its
previous support. Meanwhile, the state of California has also
cut funding.

About $5 million is needed over the next two years, according to
Tarter. She hopes the U.S. Air Force will help, because the
array can be used to track satellite-threatening debris in
space. But budgets are tight there as well.

Astronomers Mourn

The Allen array is not the only radio telescope facility that
can be used for SETI searches. But it is the best; elsewhere,
scientists have to borrow time on other telescopes.

Meanwhile, other SETI projects will continue, such as the
"setiQuest Explorer" (www.setiquest.org), an application that
allows citizen scientist volunteers to look for patterns from
existing data that might have been missed by existing
algorithms. Through a new partnership with "Galaxy Zoo"
(www.galaxyzoo.org), this project runs in real time, so
discoveries can be followed up on immediately.

Bay Area astronomers mourned the hiatus of the SETI program and
expressed concern about the future.

Rob Hawley of the Peninsula Astronomical Society called it
"unfortunate. The Allen scope was a wonderful experiment. "...
Hubble gets all the press, but there are lots of limitations."

Amateur astronomer Sarah Wiehe of Palo Alto said, "just knowing
SETI is there was significant for us. This is a setback."

"If we miss a distant signal," she added, "it would be a
terrible loss."

What It Means

SETI's mission to explore the prevalence of life in the
universe, including about 1,235 possible planets recently
discovered, is compromised, according to scientists.

What's Next

The program needs about $5 million over the next two years to
support the telescope facility.

Online Extra

To learn more about SETI and its programs, go to:


Listen to 'Strange Days... Indeed' - The PodCast



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