There was a time when running the SETI@Home screensaver to provide spare computing power to find alien radio transmissions was the coolest thing on the Internet (SETI = Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). That was a long time ago, though, and now the SETI Institute has closed down the Alien Telescope Array, effectively giving up the search, for lack of interest and funding. Lisa Kriegel reports for the Mercury News:
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 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 Tarter, “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 Niña, 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…
[continues in the Mercury News]