SETI is back on the air

posted at 5:30 pm on August 14, 2011 by Jazz Shaw

Back in April we told you about the shuttering of the Allen Array and the difficulties that E.T. would have phoning home. Well, if you happen to be in touch with the lovable alien, let him know to load up a few more minutes on his long distance card because SETI is back, on the strength of private donations.

Forty-two radio telescope dishes near Mount Shasta will again start listening for sounds of intelligent life in the universe this fall after donors — including actress Jodie Foster — came up with more than $200,000 to save the Mountain View-based SETI program, made famous by the movie “Contact.”

The Allen Telescope Array was shut down in April when the SETI (Search of Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute ran short of of money for the project.

The non-profit organization, which was founded in 1985 and funded in the 1990s by Hewlett Packard co-founder David Packard, said the $210,000 in donations it has raised this summer will allow the radio antennas to be turned back on by September. They will be re-calibrated and operated 24 hours a day through the end of 2011 while the organization continues to raise funds.

For full staffing they require roughly $2.5M per year, and apparently their new drive to raise private funds is gaining traction even in a tough economy. If they finish the next round of collections by Christmas it looks like they may be good to go for the next two years at least.

Another positive sign is that the team seems to be shifting their strategy to a less catch-all plan of scanning the entire visible universe and beginning to focus on the most promising spots. With the wealth of new exoplanets being discovered, SETI seems poised to begin devoting a larger portion of resources to specific star systems where rocky worlds orbit in the “Goldilocks zone” where liquid water can exist.

I understand that this is all in the realm of science fiction… for now. But if they ever do get that phone call, I’m enough of a foolish optimist to believe that everything on the Earth could begin to change overnight.

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