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Fundraising for Aliens

Allen Telescope Array. Credit: SETI

SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence suffered a big blow in April of this year when the primary alien search engine –the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) in northern California — was put into “hibernation” due to lack of funds. But now you can help get the ATA back online through a crowdsourcing effort called SETIstars. Similar to fundraising efforts like KickStarter, SETIstars is working to raise enough money to bring the telescope array online again and provide operating costs for at least one year. The goal is to raise $200,000.

As of this writing, nearly $30,000 has been raised already.

While the ATA is not the only radio telescope that can be used for SETI searches, it was the observatory that was primarily used for that task. The funding crisis occured when state and the National Science Foundation contributions were significantly cut.

SETIstars is an initiative by the SETI Institute to rally support from the community to help fund the SETI Institute’s operations and that of the Allen Telescope Array. SETIstars has clearly defined fundraising goals, and will recognize supporters and contributors to the SETI Institute — both financial and non-financial.

“We are starting with a simple site with a clear mandate: raise funds from the community to help bring the ATA back on line,” says the SETIstars website. “But this is just the beginning…Bringing the ATA back online is a critical first step. However, sustaining operations is also of vital importance. SETIstars will be a rallying point for future community engagement and fundraising efforts.”

Here’s your chance to allow SETI scientists to start listening for signals from space again, especially in the region in space where Kepler has found a boatload of exoplanets. Your donations are tax free (in the US) since SETI is a nonprofit institution. International donors should contact their government for information on tax deductions for charitable gifts to U.S. based charities.

So, go donate. Do it.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anonymous June 23, 2011, 6:09 PM

    I’m all for SETI doing its thing, so don’t get me wrong when I ask this as I am only curious. What scientific contributions has SETI made? Any discoveries of significance while searching the heavens for intelligent life?

    • Lord Haw-Haw. June 24, 2011, 10:10 AM

      SETI has introduced the concept of a grid computing paradigm, the number crunching methodologies of Project Phoenix (1995-20040 have been successfully used in cancer research.
      Your query on discoveries to date is answered on the SETI Q&A sheet:

      http://www.seti.org/page.aspx?pid=558

      The Kepler space telescope has found some 1,235 new planets dozens of which meet the criteria in both size and temperature to support life. To date the money spent on SETI would pay for a single nuclear submarine. The SETI League annual report for 2011 is available here:

      http://www.setileague.org/admin/report10.pdf

      SETI’s Dr. Jill Tarter in a 2008 interview was asked what message she would give to the skeptics out there who think SETI is a waste of time and money?
      She replied in part:
      “it’s a few cents per person, and that’s certainly a legitimate investment in scientific exploration. Humans are at our best when we are exercising our curiosity, and the results have often proven beneficial in unforeseen ways.”

  • Dee Rhodes June 23, 2011, 6:34 PM

    Simsthefat, they pioneered distributed computing, which is used for all sorts of number-crunching of huge databases (SETI@home was the first, and now that is used by all sorts of organizations), and they’re doing detailed surveys of regions which might not have been covered in detail for years. It’s a start, and with Kepler working so hard, they’ve got targets to drill down on, which results popped up, just at the time their funding tanked.

    I was hoping they might be able to do one of those “donate by cell/smartphone” deals, as I think they could raise even more money if impulse donors were able to jump on it immediately, but that’s just me…

  • Richard Mitnick June 23, 2011, 6:58 PM

    I did it. I am proud and happy to have done it. I wear my SETI Institute baseball cap with joy.

  • Torbjörn Larsson June 23, 2011, 7:32 PM

    Good initiative! Seems the STI (Search for Terrestrial Intelligence) got a hit at least. (O.o)

    @ Simsthefat;

    What scientific contributions has SETI made?

    The question of “other” intelligences goes back a long way in culture. (Say, by anthropomorphizing nature.) So the constraining that SETI has made goes towards answering a veeeerrrryyyyyy longstanding question – are there human equivalent intelligences somewhere else?

    But it is more than that. If we asks biologists they tell us evolution of function (traits) are contingent. According to many of them there is no guarantee that a biosphere would evolve intelligence. This is an outstanding question as well – how often does intelligence arise?

    But it is even more than that. Cetaceans have evolved extensive neurologically based capabilities, and language traits can be found all over the animal clade. (Say, birds.) According to many biologists then, this is and will likely never be human equivalent intelligence. This is another outstanding question – what is “human equivalent” intelligence?

    But it is even even more than that. SETI started out as the best bet to answer the more general question (and another rather old question, btw) – is there life elsewhere? Today we may have the capabilities to answer that by other means, exoplanet search and characterization may give a frequency of habitable and inhabited worlds. (The first is ongoing and the later can be done, say, by observing oxygen atmosphere spectra on habitable worlds.)

    If we are really, really lucky, exoplanet characterization can turn up intelligent life without engaging extra SETI on some close enough world. Say, by observing extensive night light emission or continental wide logging as characterized by surface effects on reflected star light. (The research on possible observations are very much on the web, so a google search should turn them up.)

    However for SETI that means the question has shifted. Instead of being merely interested in the existence of intelligence it can help answer the question of frequency of human equivalent intelligence among biospheres. (Q2 above.)

    To return the question, seeing that SETI is making ongoing scientific contributions: If I understand the SET white papers, they would need a couple of decades to do a thorough search once. I don’t see why they shouldn’t be given that chance?

  • Tater Nogin June 23, 2011, 8:44 PM

    Nothing, zilch, buttkiss. SETI is junk science and flock of the same feather as the sky is falling global warming people. The greatest step in this direction was the keppler mission.

  • Elijahs Fury June 23, 2011, 10:20 PM

    They dont want to be monitored. they will work against us. this is the oppurtunity they have been waiting for. the chance to come in unawares. get ready

  • William Sparrow June 23, 2011, 11:20 PM

    How about Jody Foster and Matthew McConaughey forking over a couple hundred grand? I’m certain they made several orders of magnitude more than that for their roles in “Contact”.

  • William Sparrow June 23, 2011, 11:20 PM

    How about Jody Foster and Matthew McConaughey forking over a couple hundred grand? I’m certain they made several orders of magnitude more than that for their roles in “Contact”.

  • Anonymous June 24, 2011, 1:59 AM

    It may not be such a bad thing that SETI has been shutdown. There is no point in listening for aliens with telescopes when the aliens are already here. The US government has been aware of spacecraft and visitors from outer space for a long time now.It is the US military/intelligence community that does not want the truth about advanced aliens visiting from outer space to be revealed, since that would undermine US military and economic dominance of the world. This elaborate coverup has been going on for almost 60 years. See ufocoverup.org for more info

    • Torbjörn Larsson June 24, 2011, 12:26 PM

      There is no evidence for this. The sciences that would be concerned with this is thus psychology and history of folk tales (as the personification of “aliens” are directly pulled from earlier “visitors” and “kidnappers” like trolls).

      But this is an astronomy/cosmology site mostly. Please take it elsewhere.

  • Lord Haw-Haw. June 24, 2011, 11:33 AM

    “It would be an utter tragedy if a unique research program is abandoned for the sake of the cost of a few miles of motorway.” ~Astrophysicist Dr. Paul Davies.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/apr/26/alien-institute-seti-cash-telescope

    A comparative analogy infograph on SETI expenditure versus militarization outlay is available here:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/05/01/the-cost-of-seti-infograph

    • Torbjörn Larsson June 24, 2011, 12:21 PM

      FWIW, you are triggering one of my pet peeves: comparing science expenditure against other expenditure is apples vs pears, but more basically a false dilemma. We can, and have differing reasons, to invest in both. (Unless you compare with something utterly marginal.)

      Better to compare science IMO.

      I proposed string theory, since it is “out there”, small chance for high gain. (I’m sure there are many more alternatives, say abiogenesis research.) While SETI is the converse, it is returning result as we speak, constraining ETI frequency.

      If we spend money on string theory or abiogenesis, surely spending on SETI is trivial in comparison.

      • Lord Haw-Haw. June 24, 2011, 1:22 PM

        Military expenditure is a pet peeve of many taxpayers. Last year the Global outlay figure was $1.62 trillion, that is in a World where 22,000 children die daily of poverty according to UNICEF.

        Less than 1% of what is spent on weapons annually would send every child into school. The number of children in poverty is 1 billion of the 2.2 billion children on the planet, that equates to every second child.

        Some 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.

        Back in 2006 “The Economist” ran an article on the hundreds of millions already spent on string theory:

        http://www.economist.com/node/7905225

        As to justification in spending more on string theory or abiogenesis that could certainly trigger a pet peeve outflow within the scientific community.

  • Anonymous June 24, 2011, 12:21 PM

    Torbjorn Larsson’s questions tend to suggest the prospects for detecting ETI are small. We are pretty clearly finding that the universe is such that there is a vast level of diverse complexities. The extra-solar systems being found have a huge range of configurations. Life on other planets probably has a large range of divergent structures from what we know on Earth, which probably starts on the molecular level. Life on other planets is probably organized around entirely different structures than what we are familiar with. The three large branches of multicelluar life are fungis, plants and animals. On another planet if life exists with this level of complexity it may be radically different from either of these. In fact there is another form of multicellular life here which never evolved to develop a huge range of species and complexity. These are slime molds, and if you research these up you will clearly see they are quite different from fungis, plants and animals. The evolution of complexity on top of complexity probably leads to enormously different bio-forms from what we know on Earth, certainly with regards to what we call intelligent.

    The ATA might be best funded on a 5 year term with the agreement that after 5 years, unless ETI is actually detected, the facility is turned over to other astronomical programs. It is of course important to listen for putative ETI, and to at least put bounds on null results out to some distance from Earth.

    The idea of ETI is in line with ancient ideas of beings in the sky, gods, angels or the ghost of ancestors have from prehistory been thought to inhabit the sky or stars. The modern idea of the ETI probably has some similar origin in our psychology. Since HG Wells wrote his “War of the Worlds” the ideation of gods was replaced with the space alien. The Copernican hypothesis, the universe on average is the same everywhere, does tell us that biology is probably not that unique, and the same may go with intelligent life at least similar to us. However, the nearest ETI might be 100 million light years away on a planet in some other galaxy. There might be some convergence between our ancient ideas about beings in the sky and potential science, though it might be there will never be any empirical test which can give a positive result. We will not find ETI 100 million light years away.

    We can of course dismiss absurd ideas about UFOs and space aliens at secret sites or Area 51.

    LC

  • Al Wilson June 24, 2011, 1:45 PM

    I wish they would offer a credit card, so that we could support them painlessly in our everyday life…

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