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SETI has telescopes, only aliens are missing

SETI has telescopes, only aliens are missing

With a press release released yesterday, the University of Berkeley, together with California University and the SETI Institute, announced the entry into operation of the first batch of dishes of the Allen Telescope Array . The ATA, which arose not far from Hat Creek (Northern California), was built in large part thanks to the financial contribution of Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen.

“It’s a great day for radio astronomy science and the study of the cosmos,” said Leo Blitz, director of the Berkeley Radio Astronomy Laboratory. The institute of him collaborates since 2001 with the SETI to the construction of the ATA, even if the aims of the two institutions are very different : the universities hope to be able to exploit the future 350 antennas that will form the array to be able to carry out a much more in-depth and detailed radio astronomy sky survey than in the past.

The new structure, although incomplete, was designed and built with new criteria : it is highly modular, therefore able to accommodate all the new dishes that will be installed one at a time as construction progresses. But it is also able to analyze a wider spectrum and a wider field: a sort of “wide angle” of radio astronomy, which will allow innovative approaches to the study of supernovae, black holes, galaxies and not only.

“For SETI, the technical capabilities of ATA exponentially increase the ability to search for signs of intelligent life”, explains astronomer Seth Shostak: the search for other inhabited worlds, which had even risked being canceled due to lack of funds, now it will receive much more data in a year than it has accumulated in all the past years from the beginning of the project. This is the first time that a radio astronomy facility has been built specifically for SETI. The antennas will tune to frequencies from 1 to 10 gigahertz, a range that should be safe from human interference but that should be able to reveal the secrets of the Martians, wherever they are.

Despite the substantial donations of Allen, to whom the observatory was named and who was present at the inauguration, however the works are not finished : Scientists are looking for new lenders, perhaps among enthusiasts, even if the prices are not exactly popular. For an antenna it takes about 70 thousand euros, and there are still 300 to complete the grid: doing the math, it turns out that at least 21 million euros are still missing on appeal. He who knows that some other wealthy philanthropist does not come forward.

Below is a short interview with Paul Allen (in English). Topic: the launch of the new observatory and the reasons that led it to finance the project:

Luca Annunziata