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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Search for alien life to go 24/7


Source: MSNBC
By: Ed Stoddard

DALLAS - The search for life around the universe will now take place around the clock.

The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute plans to have 42 radio astronomy dishes up and running in northern California by the end of 2007, which will enable it to scan the heavens for alien radio waves on a continuous basis.

"There are a number of groups around the world doing SETI research. They are listening for radio signals out there, but it is not 24/7," said Scott Hubbard, who holds the Carl Sagan Chair for the Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

"But it tends to be borrowed time where scientists sign up to use a facility for a few days or a few weeks at a time," he told Reuters Friday on the sidelines of a space development conference in Dallas.

That will change when the 42 radio astronomy dishes of the Allen Telescope Array are up and running. It is named for Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen, who donated some of the $12.5 million construction costs.

"When you put all these dishes together it makes a pretty large patch in the sky which you can listen to with great sensitivity — detecting signals which are either very far away or very faint," Hubbard said.

You don't have to have somebody who is planning to broadcast a signal. You hope to pick up somebody's old radio broadcast that left a different planet hundreds or thousands of years ago," he said.

Our own radio signals have been drifting out into space for the past century.

"AM radio just keeps expanding out there," Hubbard said.

Longer range plans include expanding the array to 350 dishes — but as the project depends on private funding and donations there is no timetable.

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