SETI telescope array suspends operations due to financial constraints

Apr 26, 2011 by Bob Yirka report

(PhysOrg.com) -- SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence group that has been using radio telescopes since the 1960’s to "listen" for signals from deep space that could prove the existence of other life in the universe, has had to temporarily suspend operation of its Allen Telescope Array, (ATA) due to a lack of funding.

Built in 2007, at a cost of $50 million (half of which came from its namesake, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen), the array, located north of San Francisco, is comprised of 42 dishes and is connected to 64 quad-core Dell 6100 servers, donated by Dell, Google, and Intel, that sift through 100 to 200TB of data each day in hopes of finding a sign of non-terrestrial signals.

The array has been put into hibernation mode, with a skeleton crew to keep it from deteriorating, while SETI looks for new sources of cash. Until now, its operating funds have come from the state of California (the University of California, Berkeley is responsible for operating the ATA) the National Science Foundation, NASA and other private donors. But as California and the rest of the nation suffered through hard economic times, so too did SETI as donations dwindled and budgets were cut. So, instead of adding more dishes (350 were originally planned) and putting the source code for the data scanning algorithms on the “cloud” via Amazon, the group is instead scrambling to simply stay alive.

Tom Pierson, CEO of the SETI Institute, which is based in Mountain View, California, broke the news in an open letter to donors, posted April 22; and Franck Marchis, astronomer and a Principal Investigator for SETI, confirmed the mothballing of the ATA on his blog. The news was not unexpected, however, as SETI has seen its donations over the past two years, literally dry up and disappear.

In his blog, Marchis, mentions that the ATA is used for more than just alien searching; it’s been used to study all sources of intergalactic radio wave sources, for example and has been used to help with the study of black holes and other unexplained phenomena. He also notes that the U.S. Air Force is interested in using the array to help track space debris, and if so, the hope is that some type of sharing arrangement can be worked out, at least until finds another donor with very deep pockets.

Explore further: Successful engine test enables SpaceX Falcon 9 soar to space station in Jan. 2015

More information: www.seti.org/ata

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User comments : 20

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that_guy
3.9 / 5 (7) Apr 26, 2011
Unless they do something useful with this array, they should scrap the whole project. What a waste of a perfectly good set of radio telescopes.

Seti is the most mathematically incompetent project ever put up by smart people. If alpha centauri had a civilization identical to ours, the signal reaching us would be too weak for Seti to pick up, so what makes them think that other races are sending out super powerful radio pulses anyways? It's a lack of imagination that *if* an interstellar race is communicating between stars, that they'd do it the same inefficient way as we do.

Because of course, a race that is still bound to its home planet knows everything about interstellar communication.
Haxxy
3 / 5 (3) Apr 26, 2011
@that_guy
The idea is that an advanced enough alien civilization would employ many different techniques in order to search for civilized planets. They would be totally aware of the differences in technology between races, so they would send out many different sorts of signals that imply anything unnatural coming from their planet. Since radio waves are physically quite simple when looking at the big picture, they'd likely be included as part of the search.

That's how I see it, anyway.
that_guy
3 / 5 (2) Apr 26, 2011
But you're talking about energy equivilents to our entire civilization in output, just to get to the nearest star.

Our entire civilization putting it's output just to say hello to the neighbors...

and i know that advanced civilizations will have more energy at their disposal, but why would they put so much effort into yelling for such a short distance when it becomes quantitatively easier and less energy intensive to just send someone in person to say hello? You see where I'm getting at? It is SO inefficient to send a radio signal just to the nearest star, that it would take less energy and effort just to ship the green eyed alien or a robot over to do it in person.
that_guy
1 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2011
...and because the signal weakens at a square of the distance, it gets even more inefficient as you try to talk to systems farther out, whereas sending a ship would increase in energy usage roughly linearly to the distance.

I'm not saying that aliens are coming to visit us in person, but I am saying that they would send someone over trying to communicate with us on our current technological terms...Which is why, in the current interstellar space league, it's just not worth it to include poor old earth.
RobertKarlStonjek
5 / 5 (1) Apr 27, 2011
Looks like they'll have to bring up the subject of money in their first chat with the extra-terrestrials...
kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (8) Apr 27, 2011
Of course if they believed the bible in the first place they'd know there are no aliens at all. In fact WE are the aliens. [human] Life is alien to planets, having been introduced by the creator. This is of course as un-scientific as you can get. But it's not going to go away.
Jayman
1 / 5 (1) Apr 27, 2011
Loony science. Only a guy like Allen would fund an idea like this. He worked for a living for all of 2 years.
farmerpat42
3 / 5 (3) Apr 27, 2011
The 'Alien Search' portion of SETI aside, they have done a lot for distributed computing and have many meta-discoveries that have helped other fields (from Black Hole spotting to number research). While the pointed search for ET may be a bit far fetched, using 'the search' as a drive for other developments has been fruitful.

This may not be a popular comment - but what did landing on the moon really get us? A few moon rocks, a laser reflector, and an lunarquake detector? It was the PATH to the moon where our real discoveries and advancements were made. Even if (for some silly reason) we never set foot on the moon, the advancement in the Apollo mission's wake would still be relevent.
antialias
1 / 5 (1) Apr 27, 2011
...and because the signal weakens at a square of the distance, it gets even more inefficient as you try to talk to systems farther out,

And you also never know whether EVERYBODY who is listening will be friendly. Using undirected communication methods (like radio) is a way to broadcast when you don't know where the receiver is AND you have no other way of gettging the message there in an appreciable amount of time in a physical way.

If FTL is possible then no one in the galaxy would be using radio to communicate
If near light speed travel is possible then sending information pods is much better:
a) no one can eavesdrop on it
b) the information density is much higher
c) you can decide upon visiting a new solar system whether you want to deliver the goods or whether the recipient looks too risky
Beard
2 / 5 (1) Apr 27, 2011
Von Neumann probes on our natural satellites or light emission/synthetic pollution detection from exoplanets might be our first evidence.
whalio
5 / 5 (1) Apr 27, 2011
Of course if they believed the bible in the first place they'd know there are no aliens at all. In fact WE are the aliens. [human] Life is alien to planets, having been introduced by the creator. This is of course as un-scientific as you can get. But it's not going to go away.


GTFO, we're interested in science, not creationism.
that_guy
1 / 5 (1) Apr 27, 2011
This may not be a popular comment - but what did landing on the moon really get us? A few moon rocks, a laser reflector, and an lunarquake detector? It was the PATH to the moon where our real discoveries and advancements were made. Even if (for some silly reason) we never set foot on the moon, the advancement in the Apollo mission's wake would still be relevent.


I bet it would have been popular had you left out the moon landing part :)
that_guy
1 / 5 (1) Apr 27, 2011
ignore my last comment - didn't finish editing it in time. I agree with everything farmer said, except that SETI has little to no chance of accomplishing it's primary goal, whereas the moonlanding completed what was set out to do.

But yes, they both gave us advances that benefit our lives and science, regardless of their main objectives that make those projects valuable.
J-n
5 / 5 (2) Apr 27, 2011
Of course if they believed the bible in the first place they'd know there are no aliens at all. In fact WE are the aliens. [human] Life is alien to planets, having been introduced by the creator.


Would that be the same creator that put in his bible:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. (Ephesians 6:5)

Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Apr 27, 2011
It's a lack of imagination that *if* an interstellar race is communicating between stars, that they'd do it the same inefficient way as we do.

Because of course, a race that is still bound to its home planet knows everything about interstellar communication.
I hate to bring this up because for the most part I agree with you but:
It's a lack of imagination that *if* an interstellar race is communicating between stars, that they'd do it the same inefficient way as we do.

Because of course, a race that is still bound to its home planet knows everything about interstellar communication.
So a single individual from that planet knows any better?
that_guy
1 / 5 (1) Apr 27, 2011
I'm not quite understanding what you are trying to say SH. I'm not saying I know any better, what I am saying is that it is likely that an entire race, advanced enough to travel through the stars would know better.

Besides, this is a problem of practicality. The inefficiencies and energy requirements of star to star radio communication are ludicrusly high, and rise exponentially the farther you go out. Like I said, it gets to the point where sending a physical object to communicate becomes more efficient.

And No, I am definitely not the only one saying these things...there are quite a few well respected scientists who express their doubts...But most of them are happy that it provides science outside of its main goal, and don't bother badmouthing it for that reason

skitterlad
4 / 5 (1) Apr 27, 2011
True that, that_guy !

Our radio telescopes can detect things billions of light years away. Excellent. But that would be detecting the energy of a pulsar or huge gamma ray burst. Radio waves causes by things the size of our sun at least!!! so yes, a very advanced civilization could harness the power of say, 100 stars, capturing all the power of each and shooting prime number sequences here and there. But why do it if you dont know where its going to reach. Send robotic ships, close to light speed using star power, that can collect energy as they go like destiny from stargate universe. And they can share more info than just prime numbers when they detect radio transmissions weaving through solar systems. The 'Ether' just interacts and absorbs most of the radio transmission's energy. Or they can just send a subspace transmission, what ever the heck that is....
skitterlad
not rated yet Apr 27, 2011
O yea, Did I mention that the robots would be self replicating on an exponential logarithmic scale. Even then, maybe one will reach us and spread its Yottabytes of information. Or we will be the ones sending out the self replicating drones to infinity, maybe beyond :O)
KBK
not rated yet May 01, 2011
It was just last week that the US, specifically NASA released information that stated, in incontrovertible terms, ie, not kidding, not even remotely kidding..that:

Alien, offworld, not from this earth intelligently created and based 'encoded signals' were received immediately after sputnik was launched and began transmitting.

No guff.

look it up.

Yet..no one seems to be noticing that NASA is FLAGGING as hard as they can--- that we knew and received such communications at least that far back in time.

For them to be received immediately after sputnik went up, this means that...the communication source was LOCAL.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) May 02, 2011
Alien, offworld, not from this earth intelligently created and based 'encoded signals' were received immediately after sputnik was launched and began transmitting.

No guff.

look it up.
They were found to be signals from Sputnik bouncing off the cloud cover. No 'guff'. Look it up.

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