Wednesday April 19, 2000 5:39 PM ET
Search for Alien Life Gets Boost
By WILLIAM SCHIFFMANN, Associated Press Writer
LAFAYETTE, Calif. (AP) - With a whir of electric motors,
seven satellite dishes swung as one Wednesday, pointing blindly
into space in the first demonstration of technology scientists hope
will let them eavesdrop on intelligent civilizations thousands of
light-years in space.
The dishes are the prototype of what is being called the One
Hectare Telescope (1HT), a joint project of the SETI Institute -
for Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence - and the University
of California, Berkeley.
By 2005, the project could include as many as 1,000 of the 6-meter
dishes on 21/2 acres near Mount Lassen in the rugged hills of
Northern California. The dishes, synchronized to shift together,
will collect signals from space.
The price tag is a relative pittance as scientific endeavors go.
At a news conference in the wooded hills above this wealthy enclave
25 miles east of San Francisco, the institute's executive director,
Thomas Pierson, set the bill at about $25 million.
``We've always wondered as a human species - are we alone?'' he said.
So how do the dishes do their job? While optical telescopes
use mirrors or lenses to collect light to create a visible image,
a radio telescope focuses faint radio waves onto a receiver,
much like the one in your stereo system, which amplifies
them so they are detectable.
``We want to build for the first time, an instrument that takes
hundreds of commercial satellite dishes and build one of the
largest radio telescopes in the world,'' said Dr. Leo Blitz,
director of the UC Berkeley Radio Astronomy Laboratory.
''(If we succeed) we will have made one of the major discoveries
of the common era, or we will find out how alone we really are.
In either case, we will have succeeded in learning something
important about our place in the Universe,'' he said.
Plans first call for a look at 1,000 relatively close stars similar
to our Sun, then the project will move on to peer first at 100,000
and then a million sun-like stars in the Milky Way galaxy.
The project began 40 years ago, and for many years was funded through
NASA. But in 1993, Congress cut the cash flow and SETI has been
financed privately ever since.
The seven dishes, which were shown to the public for the first time
Wednesday, won't be searching the heavens in earnest. Instead, they
will be used to solve a variety of scientific and technical challenges
linked to what scientists called the ``back end'' of the telescope.
That includes developing methods for dealing with interference,
especially from orbiting satellites.
Also under study will be the drive systems that aim the dishes, the
software that directs the drives and early versions of a device called
the digital beamformer, which will allow the telescope to observe
multiple stars and other radio astronomical sources at the same time.
Once completed, the telescope will be the largest array in the world
dedicated solely to searching for signs of intelligent life elsewhere
in the Universe. It will be comparable to the Very Large Array (VLA)
in New Mexico, the world's premier instrument for radio astronomy.
By adding additional dishes, the telescope can be easily and economically
Dr. Jill C. Tartar [sp], director of SETI research and the inspiration
for the Jodie Foster character [Ellie Arroway was more Carl Sagan than
anyone else.] in the movie ``Contact,'' was delighted as the dishes
``We just can't wait to get started,'' she said.
Image and Caption:
Tom Pierson, executive director of the SETI (Search for Extra-
Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute, discusses a prototype telescope
unveiled Wednesday, April 19, 2000 in Lafayette, Calif. that will
help researchers look for alien civilizations. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Also see the Berkeley Press Release at this URL:
And from The SETI Institute, with images of the RPA and 1HT included:
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Wed Mar 28 2001 - 16:07:53 PST