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SETIstars Looks To Revive Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence

Allen Telescope Array

First Posted: 06/22/11 05:17 PM ET Updated: 11/15/11 05:57 AM ET

Science wants to make you a star. To be more exact, scientists at the SETI Institute in California are reaching out to the public for donations to continue the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

In April, a lack of funding resulted in the shutdown of the Hat Creek, Calif., based Allen Telescope Array, 42 antenna dishes aimed at the sky and used as the primary observation tool to locate possible alien signals in deep space.

As part of the effort to bring in enough money to bring the radio telescopes out of hibernation, SETI has begun a program called SETIstars.

"We are trying to raise $200,000 from the general public, which we'll combine with some funds we've already raised," said SETI CEO Tom Pierson.

"We expect the $200,000 will be the triggering amount for us to get back online. In the long term, the combined cost for operating Hat Creek Observatory and for our observing team to do the SETI science is about $2,500,000 a year," Pierson told AOL.

As the Kepler spacecraft has continued to discover hundreds of possible Earth-like planets in orbit around other stars, the notion that we might not be alone in the universe has become more tantalizing.

"With Kepler turning up all these planet candidates, it's the first time in history we've had that kind of a target list, rather than what you might call more of a hypothetical target list of sun-like stars that might have planets around them," Pierson said.

In addition to using the Allen Telescope Array, scientists have relied on home computer users in the SETI@home program to help process any potential ET signals.

The SETIstars program was set up and presented to the SETI Institute by a number of Silicon Valley technologists who wanted to help SETI raise money by creating something that, according to Pierson, would take advantage of the evolving world of social networking.

"Anyone who logs on can send information to their Facebook or Twitter communities. It's a concept of how donations can go viral," Pierson said. "Every person who donates, whether it's a dollar or a thousand dollars or more, ... can post their own message or image, and each person is a star. Of course, that's the analogy of how we look at planets around other stars."

But in the end, with so many issues crowding up the everyday realities of everyone on Earth, why is it important for us to even continue the SETI project of looking for ET signals?

"We're trying to answer Mankind's oldest question," said Pierson. "In the earliest days of written history, there's evidence of folks pondering the sky and wondering what was there."

"As civilization has become more technological, we now comprehend much better who and where we are, in terms of our Earth and our sun and the solar system and the universe." Pierson added. "It's a multi-generational effort to try and understand if life exists beyond Earth. The only way you'll ever know is to do the experiment, and that's what those of us in SETI are doing."


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