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Jodie Foster Helps Revive SETI ET Search

Jodie Foster Contact

First Posted: 08/12/11 04:34 PM ET Updated: 10/12/11 06:12 AM ET

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP / Huffington Post) -- Actress Jodie Foster is among the many donors who helped raise funds to continue the search for alien life.

The Allen Telescope Array of 42 radio telescopes in northern California is used to search for signs of intelligent life in the universe -- and it will continue that work after private donors including Foster raised enough money to keep them going, according to The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute website.

SETI says it has received more than the necessary $200,000 that it sought.

The array was originally a joint project between the SETI Institute and the UC Berkeley Astronomy Laboratory, which pulled out earlier this year because of the loss of National Science Foundation grants and state budget cuts.

Senior SETI Institute astronomer Seth Shostak said he was gratified the money could be raised during these tough economic times.

"But people still think this very fundamental question –- is there somebody out there as intelligent or more so than us? –- is important and worth doing," he said.

The telescopes will be turned back on in September, recalibrated and operated 24 hours a day for the rest of the year as more funds are sought.

Foster portrayed fictional SETI scientist Ellie Arroway in the 1997 movie Contact. In a note that accompanied her donation, she wrote:

Just like Ellie Arroway, the [Allen Telescope Array] is "good to go," and we need to return it to the task of searching newly discovered planetary worlds for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. In Carl Sagan's book/movie Contact, a radio signal from a distant star system ends humanity's cosmic isolation and changes our world. The Allen Telescope Array could turn science fiction into science fact, but only if it is actively searching the skies. I support the effort to bring the array out of hibernation.

The array costs $2.5 million a year to operate with a full staff of 10 people. As a whole, the SETI Institute has an $18 million budget and 140 employees. The funding which comes from donors, NASA and the National Science Foundation.

SETI Institute CEO Tom Pierson told supporters in a letter that his goal is to raise $5 million so that the radio dishes can be pointed at 1,235 new so-called "exoplanets" that were announced in February by NASA's Kepler mission.

The array is not only used to search for E.T.s, but is also contributing to research into black holes, pulsars and magnetic fields in the Milky Way.

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Filed by Lee Speigel  |