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SETI silences alien-seeking telescope array

Because of a lack of funds, the SETI Institute decides to take offline its 42 telescopes that have been on the lookout for alien life.

Now more than ever, one imagines that we should intensify our search for life out there.

Life down here has become difficult. And how else can we maintain American supremacy, if not by muscling in on outer space?

It seems, though, that economics is putting a difficult hue on our quest. According to the San Jose Mercury News, the SETI (Search For Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute has announced that it is setting aside some of its telescopes, as it cannot afford to run them.

Indeed, 42 radio dishes, named the Allen Telescope Array, are being silenced until someone can come up with the cash for them to keep on scanning for otherworldly beings.

"There is a huge irony that a time when we discover so many planets to look at, we don't have the operating funds to listen," SETI director Jill Tarter told the Mercury News.

Will we ever know if something's out there? CC Armigeress/Flickr

NASA's Kepler telescope has managed to sniff out 1,235 planets that might have some life on them, of which 68 are more or less the size of Earth.

The cost of running these 42 dishes--which were originally planned to number 350--falls to UC Berkeley's Radio Astronomy Lab. But cuts made by the State of California and other donors means that SETI simply doesn't have the money.

There is some hope that the U.S. Air Force might offer some funds, but currently no one seems terribly optimistic that the telescopes will soon restart their search.

But I fancy the place SETI ought to turn to is Google. Surely the Googlies have an innate interest in knowing what is out there. Perhaps soon they will release an app that will turn every Android phone into a mini-telescope that can allow owners to attempt their own search for alien life.

In the meantime, though, one might hope that Messrs. Page and Brin could dust off a little spare change to keep these telescopes turning--just as Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen did when he contributed large sums to SETI.

Perhaps Brin and Page might think of it merely as a residual fee for using that little extra-terrestrial green Android biped to sell their fine, far-reaching software.