Mountain View's SETI Institute, the organization dedicated to answering the question "Are we alone in the universe" (or alternately, "Is there a civilization out there that's grown its own Ralph Kramden?"), is taking the wraps off a new fundraising effort Tuesday.
The institute, with help from some friends in the media business, is launching SETIstars.org to solicit support from the general public. The immediate goal—help the institute come up with $200,000 so it can take its Allen Telescope Array (named after Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, its lead funder) out of hibernation. The organization was forced to shut down the array this spring because funds for the project dried up.
As SETI research director Jill Tarter has pointed out, the timing was ironic: The closure occurred just as NASA was delivering news that its Kepler mission had found more than 1,200 exoplanets. Those are worlds all ripe for exploration by SETI and its radio telescopes.
Here's the official announcement of SETIstars.org:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Mountain View, California – Tuesday, June 21, 2011 – Today The SETI Institute announces the launch of SETIstars.org, a new initiative to bring the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) back online. The array comprises 42 telescopes in Northern California that scan for radio signals from outer space, contributing greatly to one of the most profound enterprises in human history: the search for life elsewhere in the universe.
Earlier this year, a lack of funds curtailed this search, forcing the ATA into hibernation. But public outcry over the shutdown has been enormous, surprising even longtime SETI Institute staff members, who remain optimistic about future prospects.
“We are very excited to be launching SETIstars.org today,” said Jill Tarter, Director of The SETI Institute’s Center for SETI Research, and winner of the 2009 TED Prize. “By putting this site online, we are taking the first step toward allowing the general public to take a more personal stake in the future of one of the most important scientific endeavors in the history of humankind.”
Visitors to the website may donate directly, to support a $200,000 challenge that will bring the ATA out of hibernation. In addition to donating, visitors can learn more about the ATA and the SETIstars project.
“The launch of SETIstars could not come at a more crucial time,” said Tarter. "Thanks to NASA's Kepler Mission, for the first time in human history we can now direct the telescope's scans towards planet candidates in the habitable zone around their parent star. It is exactly the wrong time for the telescope to go dark. But given the outpouring of support already, I'm invigorated by the idea that we will be able to continue the work.”
SETI Institute research seeks answers to questions like “Are we alone?” and “How long can a species survive their own technology?”
And here's video of Jill Tartar talking to us in April about the time she thought for 24 hours that SETI had received an actual extraterrestrial signal before discovering that wasn't the case.