SETI, the massive, international scientific effort to listen for life outside of earth, won't be finding that life anytime soon, the Mercury News reports—too broke to continue, the project's Allen Telescope Array is hanging up indefinitely.
The shutdown comes as both a shock and major disappointment to astronomers around the world. The 42-dish array, named after Microsoft founder Paul Allen's thick-walleted donation, has only been operational for four years, and would just now be reaching its most valuable period of use: "There is a huge irony," laments SETI Director Jill Tarter, "that a time when we discover so many planets to look at, we don't have the operating funds to listen." There are other dishes available to the project, but none as capable as the Allen Array. With these radio dishes out of commission, the project is completely hobbled. State and federal budgets are both tight, and many in Congress dismiss the project as trivial ET-chasing.
So the dishes will sit idle, for who knows how long. And if a broadcast from a distant intelligence happens to bounce in our vicinity, we'll never know. "If we miss a distant signal," says one amateur astronomer, "it would be a terrible loss."
If you'd like to donate to a worthy cause today, consider throwing SETI some bones. It just might lead to the greatest scientific breakthrough in human history.
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