April 26, 2011

Well crap - SETI's Allen observatory to shut down

From the Silicon Valley Mercury News:
SETI Institute to shut down alien-seeking radio dishes
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 Niņa, 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.
The government is making cuts but they are cutting the wrong things. This is a drop in the bucket with an incredible potential for knowledge. Who cut the funding?
NASA bankrolled some early projects, but in 1994, Sen. Richard Bryan of Nevada convinced Congress that it wasn't worth the cost, calling it the "Great Martian Chase" and complaining that not a single flying saucer had applied for FAA approval.
Sen. Richard Bryan of Nevada? Bryan only served two terms. Democrat. Their needed funding? $5 million for two years of operation. Considering that the government currently spend about Ten Billion each day, this is a bit over four seconds out of that single day to fund operation for two years. Hell, we have a 50 light-year sphere of radio and television radiating out from our blue marble, we can only imagine what else is out there -- some other culture's version of I Love Lucy... Posted by DaveH at April 26, 2011 9:28 PM
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