Monday, December 09, 2002

Alien hunters go on a quest for cash

Total estimated cost through construction of the Allen Telescope Array and support facilities — including the Myhrvold Laboratory, packed with high-tech signal processing gear — is $26 million.

This novel project involves clustering an array of 350 inexpensive commercial satellite dishes. Working in unison, the 20-foot (6-meter) mass-produced dishes mimic the collecting area of a far larger single unit, even exceeding that of a 328-foot (100-meter) radio telescope. Unlike conventional radio telescopes, the Allen Telescope Array is also expandable — just add on more dishes. (A use for old satellite dishes!)

The relentless march of technology is assuredly a harbinger of things to come in the world of SETI, suggests the institute’s Kent Cullers.

By 2020, SETI efforts “will be a million times more powerful than the searches of today,” Cullers points out. “In the more distant future,” he adds, “the scope of this search will be limited only by our imagination.”

Interrogating the stars in both targeted and sky survey mode maximizes your chances of winning the SETI sweepstakes, Tarter said. Doing so means you’re looking close to home for weak transmitters, and you are looking much farther away for stronger transmitters.

“Beyond that,” Tarter said, “it’s a question of ‘Are you looking in the right way?’”

“We can’t promise success. We’re trying to answer this question about intelligent creatures elsewhere in the Milky Way Galaxy. That’s our turf,” Tarter said. “We may have to get a lot smarter … learn some new physics … develop some new technology before we do the right thing.”

The SETI search has always involved looking for technology we are using now, it should involve looking for future technology.

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