back to article Boffins pull plug on SETI alien-seeking antenna array

The SETI Institute has put its renowned Allen Telescope Array into hibernation because it doesn't have the money to run the giant cluster of radio dishes that search the heavens for extraterrestrial life. The shuttering of the ATA was disclosed on Friday by scientists who said the project was unable to find the $5m infusion it …


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  1. Stratman


    Pulled for want of $5M?

    How much does it cost to fire one cruise missile at an empty bunker by the way?

    1. LaeMing

      Carl Sagan

      used to measure the costs in advanced military helicopters (forget which kind). SETI cost half a chopper back then. Probably about the same now.

    2. C 2


      A lousy $5M .. and our government spends $600+ billion on bombs and guns (every year), what a bunch of psychopathic thugs.

      1. Deadly_NZ


        Maybe it's all for the better. Because what will happen if we find an intelligent life filled planet?? Those same thugs who spend $600mil-60 billion, will then want to find a way to get to where they are,under the flag of Humanising them. See then there will be even more $$$$ for Bombs and new technology like lasers and stuff.

    3. hplasm

      Always cash for bullets, none for brains

      When was the last time the army needed to hold a bring-and-buy sale?

      Apart from buying armour of course...

    4. Anonymous Coward

      I give up!

      How much money gets pumped into making celebutards out of contestants on shite like Big Brother and X-Factor, meanwhile we can't afford to do one small, relatively cheap thing that might benefit humanity as a whole.

      Don't worry though, the ants will take over for sure when we've become nothing more than sacks of blubber stuffing down another Big Mac(tm), washed down with some Coke(tm) while voting via text message for the next 5 second star of a crap TV reality show...

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Seti = homeopathy

      Unless you really overlook the "fiction" part of Science fiction and can't handle mathematics. Or like homeopaths pretend wishful thinking trumps reason.

      This will get a negtastic response, people into pseudo-science hate having their beliefs challenged.

  2. Steven Knox


    they could hit up Seagate to fund the ATA?

    They could try Western Digital as well, but they may have to rename it the IDE...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Go and stand in the corner

      and think about what you've done

    2. Naughtyhorse
      Jobs Horns

      H-H-H-hold on a minute there bald eagle....

      I think you'll find that IDE starts with the letter i.

      And we all know who that belongs to....

      so it's $5m to operate for 2 years and $500bn for the lawsuits to the end of time.

    3. Deadly_NZ
      Thumb Up


      Not the IDE more like the SATA.

    4. Ammaross Danan


      Intel had just donated a boatload of server equipment. Perhaps they would be in a position to raid their petty cash for board meetings and keep SETI afloat? Of course, one could argue that if we did find "the signal," we'd have to be lucky enough we get something like in Contact: full instructions on how to get to them. Even in the movie, we STILL were simply told "your not alone" and "eventually" we'll be allowed to know more. The only real benefit SETI would have would be /potentially/ (very large stretch btw) uniting to make a global space program and development effort. We might even get Star Trek-style ships in 100 years with such motivation. At the current ESA and ObamaSA (formerly NASA) rate, we might reach the moon (again) by 2030. Maybe.

      /where's the "I didn't vote for him" icon? (M.Python reference for those interested)

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Facepalm ...

    This is utterly outrageous. Not to mention contemptuous.

    For the want of a piddling $5m (less than some banker's bonuses) they are shutting down a genuinely useful scientific facility.

    The USA are clearly shutting up shop and winding down any contact with the rest of the world far less extrasolar ones.

    This is SHAMEFUL and PITIABLE.

    1. Mike Moyle Silver badge

      Not to put too fine a point on it...

      "The USA are clearly shutting up shop and winding down any contact with the rest of the world far less extrasolar ones"?

      I'm quite sure that the SETI Institute has been seeking alternative sources of funding for some time, as their problem became ever-more apparent, and would gladly have taken donations by governments and millionaires from OUTSIDE of the United States in order to continue their work.

      (...sound of a solitary cricket...)

    2. Yag


      Even if I'm quite saddened by the end of such an interesting scientific project, I still have some difficulties to figure its actual usefulness...

  4. Rex Dart

    No wonder you're upset

    don't something like %30 of Brits believe in fairies?

    1. Rattus Rattus


      This post has none.

    2. Richard 81


      ...and what percentage of Americans don't know how to place a % unit correctly?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No wonder you're upset

      No, 61% of British believe in fairies.

      In a YouGov poll, 2011, only 39% of people surveyed indicated that they had "no religion".

  5. ted frater

    Carl Sagan's contact

    Any one that has read the book or seen the Film of Carl Sagan's story of "contact" will be ,like me saddened that such a measealy amount of funding has been stopped.

    The excitement of finding some intelligent radio signals in the seti programme would put all other news to shame.

    Mind you, the chances of finding such signals are really very small,as it would need an intelligent organism to know all about heat, light fire metals alloys vacumns and electromagnetic theory and know how to make a powerful enough radio /tv transmitter to reach across inter stellar space., also have a need to send messages this way to other intelligent organisms in the absence of an easier way.

    Thats much more than a quantum leap from finding other life forms on other suitable planets in our galaxy.

    I think that we have here on earth a most probaby unique set of circumstances in this moment in time.

    Id love to be proved wrong tho!!

    1. Naughtyhorse

      could happen...

      or to put it another way, it already has :-)

  6. Anonymous Coward

    It's simple really...

    The space aliens made them cut the funding!

    1. Mr Young

      No way man!

      Some barter would have to happen! I mean - where is my anti-gravity device? are they any cheaper nowadays?

    2. Ralph B

      Blame Dilbert

      Someone on the funding committee took last week's Dilbert strip a wee bit too seriously:


  7. Sir Bob

    The funding was pulled after a revision to the Drake equation

    The boffins added accountants to the equation and realised that all science was knobbed.

  8. Gary F

    As if they were going to find anything interesting

    I don't think aliens more intelligent than us would be using normal radio waves. They'd probably use something better like sub-space (if that weren't made up by Star Trek) so those 3 employees were really wasting their time.

    The $5m would be better spent kick starting a new series of Star Trek or continueing Stargate Universe. Science-fiction is a lot more lively than science-fact and doesn't take 1000's of years to reach us! ;-)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      RE: As if they were going to find anything interesting

      You must be right -- normal radio waves are for squares, abnormal ones rule! Made-up physics that's not as silly as Star Trek must be real.

      Please go away and return when you know what "subspace communication" is and/or you have actually achieved it -- in the mean time you can play with your star wars toys.

    2. Joe Cooper

      Why stop there?

      Just spend $2 on a marker so you can take a cardboard box and draw some fake knobs and Colonel Young on it. Instant sci-fi TV.

      Pretending is just as good as the real thing, no?

    3. Vince Lewis 1

      As badly put as it was the OP has a point

      Humanity has only used radio for 100 years and science already finding alternatives (entangled pairs jump to mind). Many scientists have noted the Limited lifespan of Radio and the statistical improbability of both humanity and Alien society both using radio at the same time.

      Thus radio waves are unlikely going to be the primary communication method for an Advanced Space fairing race. In such a society any use of Radio would most likely be highly localised or focused, the only people broadcasting would be hobby user and those with an affinity with arcane tech.

      First contact via radio could be with an ET radio HAM operator or Historical buff.

      Mind you ET may also have their own SETI project along with a radio beacon

  9. Dropper

    Ha, could have seen this coming..

    Or at least anyone that's seen Sphere could have seen this coming.. no worries, a private organisation run by a dying billionaire will no doubt fund the construction of another sphere and Jody Foster will be dropped 2 feet in a round ball.. of course SETI will remain as fucked as it was in the movie, but at least we'll get a multi-billion dollar bouncy ball so everything will be good.

    1. Greg J Preece


      I was wondering where you were going with that. The film you're thinking of is Contact. Sphere happens underwater, with lots of the scarybadthings happening.

      1. The Fuzzy Wotnot

        Yeah, scary alright!

        Dustion Hoffman and Sharon Stone's acting for starters!

  10. Rich 3

    SETI wouldn't have worked

    Any aliens developing radio communication will rapidly run into spectrum scarcity, just as we have. They'll then (as we have) start using modulations and protocols that compress the signals into something resembling white noise.

    So SETI would only detect aliens in the morse code / AM broadcasting phase of development. We've gone through this in a little over 100 years (I'd expect the last old-school transmitters to be gone by maybe 2050), so there's a pretty narrow margin between a civilisation discovering radio communication and it disappearing back into (ostensibly) white noise.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      SETI isn't just for finding little green men with radio ...

      If you had read the article you would see that radio astronomy is very useful for looking at natural radio emissions from things like extrasolar planets to determine their chemical composition -- this is an invaluable technique for, say, determining if what you are looking at is a likely candidate for life processes as we know them.

      The antenna array is very sensitive (and very cheap to run comparatively) so this is a real loss to scientific enquiry.

      Besides, spectrum shortage is a socio-political phenomena which is human in origin -- I think its specious to believeall cultures would be as extravagantly wasteful as us.

      1. Tom 13

        Nope SETI is about finding little green men. The rest of it they

        regard as by-product. Once upon a time I ran the SETI at home program on the basis that they were finding the other stuff. Got curious about it and sent them an email. The reply back made it obvious that they really were far more interested in LGM than the rest of it. A few months later I switched to Einstein and never looked back.

        So yes, I'm quite happy the goober squad is now defunct and will be happy to see other real scientists using their equipment to do actual science.

    2. Steve X

      Spectrum scarcity

      Alien Ofcom, now there *is* a scary thought... but like any quango it would never allow its reason for existence to disappear, so we can be sure that aliens will be using radio for centuries. They might even still be on DAB++++

    3. longbeast

      required title

      Communication isn't going to try to perfectly mimic natural sources, and it won't try to hide in the background. It's reasonable to say that we won't be able to understand any sensibly coded message that wasn't intended for us, but that doesn't mean we won't be able to see it.

      The biggest problem is detector size. Even if we assume a best case scenario, and there is some friendly alien race out there who has pointed a beacon directly at us, intended for us to detect, these aliens would assume a certain level of technical competence on our part. The easiest way to make a really huge collecting lens for a telescope is to use the gravitational lensing effect of your own star, and put a secondary lens somewhere in your local oort cloud. Our hypothetical alien friends might assume that if we are capable of building radio telescopes, we're also capable of putting those telescopes in a sensible place in our local system, and as such might be transmitting on very low power.

      A gravititational lens telescope would be significantly more sensitive than anything we can build on Earth, by several orders of magnitude. The same gravitational lensing principle can also be used to send signals at very low power between stars.

      Our problem might just be that we are assuming aliens will be hugely wasteful with powerful signals, when any sensible technological civilisation goes the low power route.

      1. Tom 13

        As your own post indicates, the physics is against detecting LGM via

        radio signals. The power falls off to rapidly from the point of transmission unless special actions are taken to direct it at the delivery point. Any civilization sufficiently advanced to do that is also advanced enough to know that in any collision of two species, the more advanced will overrun the less advanced whether intentionally or not. It's not just the Anglo-Saxons running roughshod over the gold bearing indigenous peoples, it's also the anthropologist contaminating the primitives in deepest Africa, or the Asia carp displacing native species in the rivers approaching Lake Michigan. Therefore it is best to be on the lookout for others, but not be broadcasting it yourself.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Nice idea

        And one that I've often thought more efficient.

        Could attract the wrong sort of attention, though.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    What about looking for advanced civilisations?

    I think we should be looking for the actions of highly advanced civilisations. This may sound a bit mad, but I think that highly advanced people would have highly advanced weapons (seems logical), and if they get advanced enough, they may be able to conduct actions like destroying a star.

    I remember a few years ago reading an article about a young star suddenly blowing up for unexplainable reasons.... Crazy idea eh?

    1. Veldan

      Rock on!

      I mean, crazy as it sounds that idea isn't half bad.

      The only kinds of aliens we want to contact are super advanced ones (assuming they are the only ones that could reach us as we have no hope of reaching them atm).

      Maybe we don't need to look for something as big as star destruction but strange explosions or odd eclipsing of stars (solars panels of the future will use the WHOLE star :p)

      Though in the mean time, you won't find unless you look and for 5 mil i can name at least 50 worse projects the Aussie government have wasted that much on, let alone the US gov...

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Yes crazy

      "highly advanced people would have highly advanced weapons (seems logical), and if they get advanced enough, they may be able to conduct actions like destroying a star."

      And you'd like to go looking for highly advanced civilizations that go around blowing up stars for kicks?

      Weapons - the clue is in the name, give me a flower hugging ET anytime

  12. Rattus Rattus

    That's fucking disgusting

    We can spend shitloads of money bombing a second-world nation back into the third-world, or hand out trillions to bankers after they've already blown trillions on bad decisions, but we can't come up with a handful of change (by comparison) to do real, important work? Where the fuck are people's priorities?

    BTW, I don't usually swear that much, but this kind of thing gets me really fucking angry.

    If anyone knows of a public collection going around to raise funds for basic science, post it here and I for one will gladly donate to it. If part of the same fund is diverted to sending people round to bankers' houses to hit them in the kneecaps with a cricket bat, so much the better.

    1. hplasm

      I wonder-

      what sort of thicko would downvote your post?

      1. Chris Hance

        Apparently 2 bankers read El Reg

        And I'm just as shocked as you are.

  13. Nigel Brown

    They'd be better employed..

    ..loking for intelligent life on *this* world first.

  14. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    In related news..

    .. a number of corporate computers have started to perform remarkably better*, halting various upgrade projects..


    (*) yes I know you can limit it to screensaver only, but where's the fun in that?

  15. The Fuzzy Wotnot

    Alexi, he knew the score!

    "Is there life on Mars?

    Is there life in Peckham?

    What's that switch over there for?

    Ah ah ah ah ow... ah ah ah ah ow

    Allo John, got a new motor!"

  16. Ooo-wait-BUT!

    ET says:

    phew, break out the bubbly :o)

  17. NomNomNom


    What did they find?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    If SETI really wanted funding

    They should have done a better business case to the US Gov (TM):

    SETI : We are looking for extra terrestrial life on other planets and we only want $5m measly dollars.

    US GOV(TM) : <yawn>

    SETI: Oh and we also want to shoot things too!!!

    US GOV(TM): Excellent! quick write this organisation a big fat cheque! <hoorar>

  19. Bilgepipe


    Cue the sound of countless alien civilizations turning their radios back on now that those dumbass humans have stopped listening in.

  20. Bob Foster

    Par for the course

    I seem to remember that at the time the movie Armageddon was released the entire budget for looking for real near earth asteroids that might really hit us was one fiftieth of that movies budget!

    Shows where our priorities lie!

    1. Oninoshiko

      Why would we track things we can't do anything about anyway?

      Odds are, one of them is going to hit us. It's not really a matter of if, but when. We really can't do anything about it, Bruce Willis not withstanding. Now, what is your morbid fascination with your own demise that you really want to go looking for something we can't stop anyway?

      Not that it's getting funding either, but maybe we should concentrate on getting off this rock. A self-sustaining colony on mars increases the chance of our long term survival substantially. IDing space debris we can do nothing about doesn't.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Precisely ...

      (see above)

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Ed's Correction...

    ...after the compilation of 1,235 new hostile planets,


    ...Mines the one that is "off the hook", for now.

  22. Andy Fletcher
    Thumb Down

    Damn shame

    I ended up in the top 1000 UK contributors on the orignal distributed crunching thing. I'm sorry to see it go.

    $5M doesn't sound like a lot of money when I read elsewhere we're planning to spend trillions of Dollars globally this century tryng to fight hot air.

  23. Anteaus

    Unlikely to succeed, but...

    Agree that SETI is unlikely to find anything, since the timespan over which a civilization uses radio is probably too short. The likelihood of any near us to be doing so right now (or a few hundred years ago to allow for transit time!) is slim.

    Though, if they want funding, they need to weave a climate-change argument into the request. Then billions, not a few paltry millions, will flow in.

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