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Donors keep search for aliens alive

By Alex Dobuzinskis (China Daily)

10:18, August 15, 2011

LOS ANGELES - A California institute plans to again start operating equipment used to listen for signs of intelligent life in space by collecting private donations in the place of money lost from government cuts.

In April, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute found it could no longer afford to operate its $30 million radio telescope array, which was designed to hear potential signals from alien life forms.

Faced with that situation, officials with the nonprofit institute in northern California's Mountain View decided to solicit donations. This week, they said the total raised had surpassed $200,000, the amount of their original goal.

That money was the result of the generosity of more than 2,400 donors, including the actress Jodie Foster and the Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders, they said.

As a result, the institute said it expects to begin using the telescope array again in September and keep it running at least through the end of the year.

That plan, though, still depends on whether the center receives an unspecified amount of money from the US Air Force to keep track of space debris that could damage satellites.

Thomas Pierson, chief executive of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, said he thinks the nearly completed deal with the Air Force, combined with the private money, will allow the group's Allen Telescope Array to again listen for space chatter.

"For those who are interested in understanding whether intelligent life might be out there elsewhere in our galaxy, the Allen Telescope Array and our Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute team doing the research is the best bet," Pierson said.

The search for alien life is a scientific discipline now being undertaken by a small number of US universities and groups in Australia, Argentina and Italy, Pierson said.

The Allen Telescope Array is the first instrument designed for the purpose of listening for signals from extraterrestrial life, Pierson said.

It is named after Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft Corp and one of the chief benefactors of the project. The array consists of dozens of dish-like antennas operated as one large radio telescope.

It stands in a remote area in the shadow of Lassen Peak, east of Redding, California, and began operating in 2007, according to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute.

The array is part of the University of California, Berkeley's Hat Creek Radio Observatory.

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