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SETI's Search For Aliens In The Universe Boosted By Donations

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In this Oct. 9, 2007 file photo, radio telescopes of the Allen Telescope Array are seen in Hat Creek, Calif. Astronomers at the SETI Institute in Northern California say a steep drop in state and federal funds has forced the shutdown of a key program to search for extraterrestrial life. | AP File

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- An array of 42 radio telescopes seeking signs of intelligent life in the universe will continue that work after private donors raised enough money to keep them going.

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.

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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