There is a new answer to the Fermi Paradox ¬– which asks why, if the universe is vast and the basic ingredients life plentiful, have we not yet discovered another civilization? The answer may be: because we can’t afford to.
Last Friday, the SETI Institute in Mountainview, California, sent out a letter to its donors explaining that the Allen Telescope Array, a set of radio dishes that the Institute runs in partnership with the University of California, Berkeley, would be going into a period of “hibernation” because of budget.
The array, which is located in northern California, was built with a $13,5 million donation from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, It began operations in 2007 and currently consists of 42 radio dishes, each 6 × 7 metres across. Future plans call for a 350 dish array.
The array is the first astronomical facility “optimized” to search for signals from distant worlds, says Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer with the Institute. It has most recently been used to follow up on planetary systems detected by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft.
The shutdown means observations will cease while officials look to raise $5 million to cover operations and data gathering for the next two years of the Kepler search.
“Clearly it’s very serious,” says Shostak. “If you don’t have an instrument, you’re out of business.”