Any extraterrestrials trying to get in touch with us are about to get some bad news—a busy signal. Because budget cuts have just taken one of our best tools in the search for intelligent alien life and sent it straight to mothballs.
Scientific American reports that the Allen Telescope Array (or ATA), which was built to pick up possible signals from distant alien civilizations, has been temporarily shut down. The array was meant to be made up of 350 six-meter radio antennas, but by 2007, when construction stopped, only 42 of those dishes had been completed—at a cost of $50 million.
Astronomer Franck Marchis, who is affiliated with both the Allen Telescope Array and the SETI Institute, made the announcement on his blog:
"Unfortunately, the financial state of the observatory degraded significantly over the past 2 years with the lost of various sources of funding ... because the project is mainly funded through private donors, the economic recession had a huge impact and delayed significantly the expansion of the array impacting the overall project.
Which means, per Tom Pierson, CEO of the SETI Institute, that the ATA has been put into "hibernation," and that "starting this week, the equipment is unavailable for normal observations and is being maintained in a safe state by a significantly reduced staff."
Let's hope that if any aliens are out there trying to get our attention, they'll wait for us to start listening again!