SETI and traditional astronomy find way to work together at the same time; Bill Gates and Cameron Diaz offer support too

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Artist Rendering of ATA-350 (the Allen Telescope Array)

Great article here from the Wall Street Journal a few days ago about SETI and the most recent TED conference. First some good news right off the bat:
Dr. Tarter, who directs the search for extraterrestrial intelligence at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., received this year's TED Prize, which awards its winners "one wish to change the world." The $100,000 prize is accompanied by $1 million in support funding and, more importantly, the opportunity to marshal the technology, multimedia and fund-raising resources of the TED elite.
which apparently is only the beginning of the extra funding expected to appear after the successful appeal made at TED for support for expansion of the Allen Telescope Array. Here's what makes it possible for SETI and classical astronomers to work together without interfering with each other:

The Allen telescope searches the radio spectrum of single stars for transmissions from other civilizations while making wide-angle star maps at the same time. For the first time on a telescope of this scale, astronomers and SETI scientists can share a view of the cosmos, without getting in the way of each other's work. Until the advent of the Allen Telescope, SETI researchers operated on borrowed time.

"We have been using other people's telescopes for small amounts of time," Dr. Tarter says. "That's what the Allen Telescope is changing. We built this telescope in a way in which we can do traditional radio astronomy and SETI at the same time. This is the first telescope that has ever been built to do this."

I suppose it's this win-win feature of the new telescope that makes it so easy for people to volunteer to fund or support it in other ways. Here's the eventual goal:

Dr. Tarter and her colleagues are eager to expand that radio array to encompass 350 satellite dishes with enhanced signal detectors, at a final project cost of about $50 million. Today, the SETI scientists can scan only a few stars at a time across a fraction of the spectral bandwidth available for alien signals. "My goal for the next decade would be to search a million stars like the sun and for each one of them to scan about 10 billion frequency channels," she says.

For more information on the array you can see its Wikipedia page here.


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