When would be the worst possible time for SETI‘s best extraterrestrial signal-hunting telescope to be switched off?


And guess what? Due to lack of funding, right this moment, SETI’s Allen Telescope Array (ATA) has been temporarily mothballed.

At a time when NASA’s Kepler and other exoplanet-hunting telescopes are detecting hundreds of confirmed and candidate alien worlds orbiting other stars, wouldn’t it be nice to point the ATA at some of these worlds — particularly the ones that have an Earth-like, habitable flavor? If our intelligent extraterrestrial neighbors are out there, “listening” to these worlds with radio telescopes would be a good plan.

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But only last month, the SETI Institute announced that it would have to suspend the use of the ATA as they’d run out of money.

Through a combination of budget cutbacks by the state of California and the National Science Foundation, to keep the ATA running became an impossible task. SETI isn’t a government organization, so bad news aliens, there’s no bail-out plan to help us contact you.

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Now, through a Silicon Valley initiative called SETIStars, set up to generate funds for what I consider to be one of mankind’s noblest endeavors, we can all help SETI get back to doing what it does best: search for ET’s signal. The target is to raise $200,000.

From the SETIStars website:

At the SETI Institute, we’ve made a name for ourselves exploring space. But it’s our community here on Earth—passionate, science-minded and creative—that truly defines us. That’s why we’re launching SETIstars, an initiative to connect us more closely than ever with the constellation of visionaries and supporters that make our work possible. Priority one is getting the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) back online as soon as possible and once again fixing our gaze on the stars. The ATA is a powerful field of linked radio telescopes that enable countless avenues of astronomical study, chief among them the search for evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations and insight into the nature of our cosmic origins. In the wake of a recent funding shortfall, however, this invaluable tool lies dormant and our vision of the universe around us has gone dark. With your help, we can change that. But like any worthwhile endeavor, the first challenge is unlikely to be the last. This is a journey that will last our lifetimes, as we continually strive to get closer to answering the kinds of questions that may one day change everything about our world. It won’t happen overnight, but with your support, it will happen. We here at the SETI Institute are making an appeal to the power of human collaboration, and now is the time to get involved. Join us!

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The search for extraterrestrial intelligence isn’t a “nice, but unimportant” exercise, it’s a program that hopes to define mankind’s place in the Universe. Is intelligent life on Earth unique? Or is the galaxy throbbing with transmissions just waiting for the correct SETI instrument to be listening on the right frequency?

So long as the ATA remains offline, the longer we’ll have to wait for that civilization-defining question to be answered.