05/01/2011 12:12 pm ET | Updated Jul 01, 2011

Alien Search: Help Slumping Nonprofit SETI Institute In Space Research

Just when scientists are making advancements in searching for extraterrestrial life beyond Earth, a lack of funds is putting a cap on their telescopes.

The nonprofit SETI Institute sent an email to its supporters saying a drop in both government and private funds means the northern California facility no longer has the $1.5 million a year needed to operate.

Last week, the science research institute's Allen Telescope Array was put into a hibernation state. Since 2007, the radio dishes had scanned space for signals from alien civilizations, according to the Associated Press.

In a blog for HuffPost, Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the institute, says during tough economic times, some may scoff at the importance of exploring the universe. But he's asking for help in resuscitating the program, making the case for discovery.

"The answer is that discovering new things is what distinguishes our species...Are we destined to merely endure, or to flourish?"

The San Jose Mercury News reports that the turn of events comes just after the announcement from astronomers this spring, who said 1,235 new possible planets had been observed.

Fifty or 60 of those planets appear be habitable, Shostak told the Associated Press.

"There's plenty of cosmic real estate that looks promising," he added. "We've lost the instrument that's best for zeroing in on these better targets."

Shostak told the Mercury News the project's suspension is like "the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria being put into dry dock."

The telescopes are named for Microsoft co-founded Paul Allen, who donated millions of dollars for the project. A spokesman for the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation said it had no immediate plans to provide more funding to the facility, according to the Associated Press.

The SETI Institute is seeking public help. Click below to donate to its science research.

Subscribe to Must Reads.
The internet's best stories, and interviews with their authors.