The world’s only telescopes devoted to searching for aliens went dark two months ago because of a lack of funds. Now you can help bring them back.
This morning, SETI launched a website called SETIstars to try to gather funds to resurrect the Allen Telescope Array (ATA), which some astronomers call our greatest hope for finding ET.
The ATA, a joint project between the non-profit SETI Institute and the University of California, Berkeley, has been scanning the skies for signs of life (among other things) since 2007. The original plan was to build 350 dishes in a specific pattern over the volcanic plains of the Hat Creek Radio Observatory in Northern California, which could cover more of the sky more efficiently than a single dedicated dish. To date, only 42 dishes have been built — and right now they’re lying dormant.
SETIstars opens with a concrete goal: Raise $200,000 in 40 days to bring the ATA back online. Donors can choose an amount between $5 and $500 to go directly toward the array’s operating costs, and have their photos and a brief bio featured on the site.
That initial $200,000 won’t cover everything; the telescope needs a total of $2.5 million per year. SETI is looking into other sources of funding, such as collaborating with the US Air Force to use the telescopes to track space debris. But the scientists hope lots of small donations from SETI enthusiasts can help fill in funding gaps so the telescope never has to lie silent again.
“We’ve long believed, and I hope that we will prove to be correct, that individuals around the world would be willing to donate small amounts of money,” said SETI Institute director Jill Tarter. “If it worked for Obama, crowdfunding should work for us.”
Once the ATA is up and running again, it also has a clear goal: Aim directly at potentially habitable planets to see if anyone’s there. Just before the telescope shut down, SETI laid out plans for a two-year program to observe exoplanets discovered by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft that could support liquid water, and maybe life. Future SETIstars projects may involve buying data processing time by the minute, and watching the data stream in on your phone, Tarter said.
But ultimately, the project is aimed at uniting the worldwide community of people who care about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.