At the end of April 2011 the Hat Creek Radio Observatory (HCRO) was taken offline, to be put into ‘hibernation’ indefinitely. Unfortunately, the HCRO houses the Allen Telescope Array – the very same array that the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project has been using for years to search the skies for signs of extraterrestrial life.
The SETI project, originally theorized by the likes of Nikola Tesla, and Lord Kelvin, was realized in its modern form by astrophysicist Frank Drake, and was elevated to international acclaim by astronomer and author Carl Sagan, along with Russian astronomer Iosif Shklovsky. The project has been searching the skies for non-terrestrial radio signals for over 60 years, though all that has come to what some call an inevitable end.
The SETI website explains the shutdown:
“NSF University Radio Observatory funding to Berkeley for HCRO operations has been reduced to approximately one-tenth of its former level and, concurrently, growing State of California budget shortfalls have severely reduced the amount of state funds available for support of the HCRO site.”
The SETI project has had some close calls over the years. Astronomers have used the Allen Telescope Array to scan small swaths of deep space for any sign of intelligence, and just now, when exciting news has been coming from the NASA Kepler Mission, revealing hundreds of extra-solar planets to target for extraterrestrial life, it seems that this funding problem couldn’t have come at a worse time.
This turn of events is dismaying for many reasons, but all may not be lost. The SETI Institute is calling for public help by way of donations, along side efforts to secure military research contracts, all in hopes of becoming less vulnerable to wavering federal and state funding.
Is this the last we’ll see of the SETI Institute, or will the public belly up to the bar and keep this important and historical project on its feet? It is my belief that the prospect of finding intelligent life elsewhere is of paramount importance. Let’s hope there are enough like minded people out there . . . people with deep pockets.