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SETI Shuts Down Due to Lack of Funds

SETI was started years ago through a generous donation by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, one thinks he could probably swoop in again to get them up and running again.

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. “Honestly, if everybody contributed just 3 extra cents on their 1040 tax forms, we could find out if we have cosmic company.”

After its creation, SETI became a public-private partnership.  It’s lack of funding is from the California state government cutting everything under the sun to stave off a fiscal meltdown where it could come short of declaring bankruptcy.  The SETI folks currently say they need just $5 million; which would operate them for another two years.

Frankly, instead of going to the press whining about a lack of tax dollars, they’d be more productive setting up booth at various conventions or setting up private auctions with space and technology enthusiasts .

My guess is they would raise more money that way too.

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