Limited listening

A closeup of one antenna in the Allan Telescope Array, at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory in Northern California (Colby Gutierrez-Kraybill/Creative Commons)

Our collective ears have swiveled downward, from the sounds of the sky, to the jingling of our coin purse. The SETI Institute halted operations of the radio telescopes in the Allen Telescope Array, the San Jose Mercury News reported Monday. Until a few days ago, these telescopes had been scanning the sky, radio-ears at the ready, in a quest to detect signals from extraterrestrial civilizations. Budget shortages, it seems, find ever new ways to determine, and limit, what we listen to.*

These budget reductions are sad news, for me and for many people. SETI matters have appeared on this blog before (and for pieces I’ve written for Wired Science and for class). What actually interests me most about the field – more than the aliens themselves – is how the search affects those drawn to it. (For more on this watch Jill Tarter’s, director of the institute’s Center for SETI Research, 2009 TEDtalk.

Moon meets Venus

Night sky (Sabby3000/Flickr)

The desire to reach intelligence beyond the bounds of earth, seems to imbue goodwill towards the life already here (snarky jokes shelved for another time). By turning off equipment that makes the search possible, we’re lowering our perspective. Our concerns become more base. I can’t think of any time when that worked to our advantage.

Tossing in my two copper coins, I hope it’s not too long before our ears perk up again.

(*Note: Radio signals aren’t actually sound, but stretched-out, far-journeying light.)

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For reading see:

Search for ET Put on Hold, Seth Shostak, a lively, likeable Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute, Huffington Post;
-SETI Institute to shut down alien-seeking radio dishes, Lisa Krieger, the San Jose Mercury News;
SETI Institute suspends search for alien signals, David Perlman, the San Francisco Chronicle;
-Or see the announcement and request for donations on the Institute’s website.

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