5:57pm

Tue August 16, 2011
The Two-Way

SETI Plans To Resume Listening For Aliens Next Month, Thanks To Donations

The SETI Institute's mothballed Allen Telescope Array — which scans the universe for signs of alien life — will soon be up and running again, thanks to more than $200,000 in donations that came from people including actress Jodie Foster and former astronaut Bill Anders.

The telescope array has been shut down since late April, when the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute said it could no longer afford to keep the telescopes operational.

SETI now confirms that it plans to resume operations in the middle of September. A note on the group's website, thanked donors, saying "We are absolutely thrilled that thousands of people from all over the world stepped forward to declare their support for SETI science just when help was needed the most."

The timing of the shutdown particularly frustrated researchers because just months earlier, on Feb. 1, NASA's Kepler mission announced 1,235 exoplanet candidates.

As a guest on Science Friday in April, Center for SETI Research director Jill Tarter told Ira Flatow, "These Kepler worlds are what we were planning to spend the next two years exploring. It's marvelous to finally have this incredible bounty of worlds out there — planetary worlds that we actually know about.

Knowing the location of the planets and their stars, Tarter said, would take some guesswork out of the equation.

"And actually, 54 of those are thought to be at just the right distance from their star that they might have liquid water on the surface. So even among the 1,235, there are 54 with higher priority," she said.

But donations are still being sought, and accepted, to keep the array's 42 radio telescopes up and running. More than 2,550 people have joined Foster and Anders to pitch in.

"It takes a million and a half dollars to operate the telescope each year," Tarter said in April, "and then about another million dollars for the scientific work that gets done by the researchers at the SETI Institute."

Tarter would also like to let average Earthlings in on the fun, as well. Sometime in 2012, she hopes to unveil SETIQuest, which would "allow anyone, anywhere to contribute to the search for signals of intelligent life in the universe," according to the TED Blog.

Reporting on the Kepler findings in February, we posted a collection of space sounds, as translated by SETI researchers — including one sound that the analysts synthesized to mimic what they believe a sign of intelligent life might sound like.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.