LOS ANGELES – Thanks to the help of 2,700 independent supporters and a new deal with the U.S. Air Force, the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array went back online this week.
For the first time since April, the group of 42 giant radio telescopes – built to monitor the universe full time for radio waves that might be sent out by life forms on other planets – is listening once again.
And the timing couldn’t be better.
On Monday, NASA announced that its Kepler Mission had confirmed the existence of a planet in a “habitable zone,” meaning it is close enough (and far away enough) from its sun that water could exist on its surface. The planet, called Kepler-22b, is located 600 light years away.
And in the past 18 months the mission has discovered 2,236 planets that might also be in a similar “habitual region.”
The SETI Institute – SETI stands for search for extraterrestrial intelligence – plans to spend the next two years pointing its telescopes at the top 1,000 habitable planets that Kepler finds.
The Allen Telescope Array has monitored the universe consistently since 2008, but in April, SETI and its partner, the Radio Astronomy Lab of the University of California, Berkeley, ran out of money and put the ATA into hibernation mode. The SETI Institute raised $232,155 from private citizens to help put the array back online, but the bulk of the funding came from a partnership with the Air Force to help with its space situational awareness mission.