Wednesday, May 11, 2011

SETI Institute Closing Its Doors

Without major funding, probably donations from the wealthy "stars" of America, one of the neatest scientific efforts on the planet, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) will be forced into "hibernation" due to cuts in federal, state and local funding in California.  The Institute, part of UC Berkeley, caught the public's imagination when with the advent of the internet in the 1990's it asked everyday science buffs to allow SETI to use their home computers in off-hours to vastly increase the computing power needed to process data collected by the 42-dish Allen Telescope Array.  (He of Microsoft fame wrote a $30 million cheque to fund SETI in the early days - now there's philanthropism that actually accomplishes something!)  The array is part of the Hat Creek Radio Observatory near Mt. Shasta.  I know I signed up for a couple of years, and apparently about three million other people did too.  Every evening before I turned in I'd log onto the SETI website and go to bed counting little green men instead of sheep.  Funding for SETI has been cut over the years to 1/10th its original, but now it's reducing the staff to only 2 scientists - who will be charged with mothballing the facility and trying to protect it from environment threats "and vandalism".  The  mothballing comes at a critical juncture for the facility, as it was just preparing to re-orient the telescopes at about 50 promising newly-discovered planets in the cosmos.