Q&A about the ATA shutdown.


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Eric Korpela
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Message 1100648 - Posted: 25 Apr 2011, 22:44:19 UTC
Last modified: 25 Apr 2011, 22:50:07 UTC

The news that the Allen Telescope Array has gone into "hibernation" due to lack of funds was broken by Scientific American. We've known that this was a possibility for quite a while, but are sorry to see it happen. Since there's an implied relationship between the SETI@home and the SETI Institute, I thought I would open a Q&A thread about this closure.

Q. How does this closure affect SETI@home?
A. It really doesn't. While some of our projects (Fly's Eye experiment) have used the ATA, SETI@home doesn't use any data from ATA. We also don't currently receive any funding from the SETI Institute, and are not affected by their budget.

Q. Why has the ATA closed?
A. The ATA has gone into hibernation due to lack of funding. ATA requires about $1.5M/yr for operations and an additional $1M/yr to support the SETI Institute's science programs. $2.5M/yr sounds like a lot, but the cost of one F/A-18 jet could fully fund that for 23.5 years.

Q. What do you mean by "hibernation"?
A. Hibernation is in between operational and fully shut down. In hibernation some systems necessary to keep the telescope healthy are still powered on. In a full shutdown, critical components would be removed from the telescope and put into storage to prevent damage. That would make restarting expensive. But keeping systems powered during hibernation is also expensive. If funding is not found, at some point the decision would be made to shut down completely.

Q. Have they asked NSF/NASA/Paul Allen/Rupert Murdoch/George Soros/Richard Branson/Bill Gates/Oprah?
A. I'm sure the answer to the first two is "yes." But the NSF and NASA have spent their money on new instruments and/or telescope arrays and are getting squeezed in other areas. The billionaires? I have no way of knowing. I know that I would have no way of getting in contact with any of them.

Q. Why don't you pool your resources with the SETI Institute's in order to save the telescope?
A. We don't have that kind of money. We're also on a very tight budget and will have enough difficulty keeping SETI@home in operation with our current funding.

Q. If you personally had the money to keep it operating, would you donate it?
A. Probably not. As envisioned, the 350 telescope ATA would have been a great instrument for SETI. But as it exists now, the 42 telescope ATA is less sensitive to SETI signals than Arecibo and takes longer to survey the same amount of sky. That doesn't mean it's inappropriate for anyone's research, it just doesn't fit the bill for mine.

The expansion to 350 telescopes will take much more money than the I will ever have known anyone who knows anyone who has. It may even approach the cost of that F/A-18. I'd love to see it happen, but I'm understandably pessimistic. If I were a billionaire and had 60 million burning a hole in my pocket, then I might fund the expansion. Assuming I didn't blow it all on ninja supermodel robots first.

Q. Will this be the end of the SETI Institute?
A. Not by a long shot. Remember the start of the SETI Institute what caused by the cancellation of all federal SETI funding. If the ATA closes down, I think the SETI Institute will just concentrate on making instrumentation that they can use on other telescopes.
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Message 1100725 - Posted: 26 Apr 2011, 3:10:05 UTC

So I am curious then...If the SETI Institute isn't going to be using the array in the search for ET, then what array or telescope will they use? I was under the impression that they were also using the VLA (Very Large Array) in New Mexico, but according to Wikipedia that's wrong. I am sure they have information on their website, but at a quick glance, I could not find immediately find anything on their homepage, though I admit I didn't spend a good deal of time sifting through all their pages.
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Message 1100741 - Posted: 26 Apr 2011, 3:59:24 UTC - in response to Message 1100725.

I believe they have done some observations at the VLA in the past year, but I can't recall what the targets were. For use of other arrays, they will have to go through the usual proposal processes to get observing time and provide their own instrumentation, the way we do with Arecibo.
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Message 1100769 - Posted: 26 Apr 2011, 5:36:45 UTC
Last modified: 26 Apr 2011, 5:42:03 UTC

This should be of interest. Please note its NOTHING to do with the SETI Institute or the SETI@home project. Its NASA funded and run by other institutions.

New Long Wavelength Array being used for SETI
26th Jan 2011 news;
They have built a new Long Wavelength radio telescope Array in New Mexico beside the VLA and it might be doing some SETI work! The Long Wavelength Array will use a radio frequency of 20 to 80 megahertz, says NASA, which corresponds to wavelengths of 49.2 feet to 12.5 feet.

Website; http://www.phys.unm.edu/~lwa/index.html

NASA press release; http://www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/lwa20110126.html

News story; http://news.cnet.com/8301-11386_3-20029798-76.html

Youtube news video of the array; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y90mVxiQxZk

Picture of the new array;



John.
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Message 1100785 - Posted: 26 Apr 2011, 8:35:44 UTC - in response to Message 1100769.

Havn't read the articles yet, but wonder what they're trying to pick
up, except all sorts of 'Broadcasting' (27MHz, truckers, police, etc.)

And 80MHz, just below the common FM Radio,87.5MHz, but also used by other
services, but that can different in the U.S.A, here it's also used
by the Fire Department, Police, Taxi, AirTrafficControl, etc., 80-88MHz.

Should read the articles first, but this comes to mind, ;-).



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Message 1100788 - Posted: 26 Apr 2011, 10:23:37 UTC

Thanks for the heads up there Eric, it answered a few questions of my own!

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Message 1100832 - Posted: 26 Apr 2011, 15:10:41 UTC - in response to Message 1100785.

Havn't read the articles yet, but wonder what they're trying to pick
up, except all sorts of 'Broadcasting' (27MHz, truckers, police, etc.)

And 80MHz, just below the common FM Radio,87.5MHz, but also used by other
services, but that can different in the U.S.A, here it's also used
by the Fire Department, Police, Taxi, AirTrafficControl, etc., 80-88MHz.

Should read the articles first, but this comes to mind, ;-).


Long wavelength arrays of this sort are often used to try to map the distribution of gas at very high redshift, at the time the first generation of stars was forming. That era is called the "epoch of reionization" because those stars ionized nearly all of the hydrogen in the universe.


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Message 1100880 - Posted: 26 Apr 2011, 22:37:50 UTC

Here's an article with some info

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — In the mountains of Northern California, a field of radio dishes that look like giant dinner plates waited for years for the first call from intelligent life among the stars.

But they're not listening anymore.

Cash-strapped governments, it seems, can no longer pay the interstellar phone bill.

Astronomers at the SETI Institute said a steep drop in state and federal funds has forced the shutdown of the Allen Telescope Array, a powerful tool in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, an effort scientists refer to as "SETI."

The 42 radio dishes had scanned deep space since 2007 for signals from alien civilizations while also conducting hard scientific research into the structure and origin of the universe.

SETI chief executive Tom Pierson said in an email to donors last week that the University of California, Berkeley, has run out of money for day-to-day operation of the dishes.

"Unfortunately, today's government budgetary environment is very difficult, and new solutions must be found," Pierson wrote.

The $50 million array was built by SETI and UC Berkeley with the help of a $30 million donation from Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen. Operating the dishes costs about $1.5 million a year, mostly to pay for the staff of eight to 10 researchers and technicians to operate the facility.

The shutdown came just as researchers were preparing to point the radio dishes at more than 1,200 potential new planets identified by NASA's Kepler Mission.

Leo Blitz, a professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley and former director of the observatory that includes the Allen Telescope Array, says the dishes are unique in their ability to probe for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations while gathering more general scientific data at the same time.

"That made the telescope a double-barreled threat," Blitz said. He said he knew of no other facility in the country that was undertaking this kind of search for extraterrestrial life.

The SETI Institute was founded in 1984 and has received funding from NASA, the National Science Foundation and several other federal programs. Other projects that will continue include the development of software and tools to be used in the search for extraterrestrial life.




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Message 1100909 - Posted: 27 Apr 2011, 1:08:55 UTC

Can't find the link right now but one of the numerous articles said a couple of people at the SSL had their jobs on the chopping block due to the funding cuts.

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Message 1100940 - Posted: 27 Apr 2011, 4:10:45 UTC - in response to Message 1100909.

People at SSL are always on the chopping block due to funding cuts. The floor where I have my office is very lonely. But it's a fact of life in this business. Matt, Jeff and I are lucky that it hasn't been us. Yet.
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Message 1100994 - Posted: 27 Apr 2011, 9:50:35 UTC

So that no impact to Seti @ home?
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Message 1101005 - Posted: 27 Apr 2011, 11:07:47 UTC

All great info, and lots to consider. But of greatest note is, that according to a quick Google search, Eric has originated the fabulous concept of the "ninja supermodel robot"!!!!
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Message 1101022 - Posted: 27 Apr 2011, 13:04:02 UTC

Hi Eric,

Thanks for the clarification.

Does this mean the Green Bank data is unlikely to appear, given the budget constraints, or is that still going ahead? There was some talk of using data from Parkes too.

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Message 1101024 - Posted: 27 Apr 2011, 13:51:37 UTC - in response to Message 1100994.

So that no impact to Seti @ home?


As said on Q&A , no impact
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Message 1101025 - Posted: 27 Apr 2011, 13:59:59 UTC - in response to Message 1100832.

Long wavelength arrays of this sort are often used to try to map the distribution of gas at very high redshift, at the time the first generation of stars was forming. That era is called the "epoch of reionization" because those stars ionized nearly all of the hydrogen in the universe.

Not very promising territory for finding an evolved, intelligent, civilisation then! Unless ET happens to be driving her truck across the line of sight....

Back to the topic at hand. Whatever the SETI Institute and the Allen Array may have achieved or be capable of achieving, the one thing they are undeniably good at is public relations. The story of the closure of the Allen Array made a prominent position on the front page of today's "The Guardian" newspaper, published in London (online version), and it continued as the lead story on an inside news page. There's just a small mention of SETI@home, erroneously suggesting that we "sort through the masses of data collected by the institute's experiments" - with no mention of Arecibo - before they move on to SetiQuest.

It's clear that this public relations blitz is designed to stir up a lobby to call for the restoration of public funding to run the Allen Array. And good luck to them - we've done the same here when funding for Arecibo and Jodrell Bank seemed to be under threat. But I hope this doesn't degenerate into a competition where the money goes to the group who can shout the loudest, at the expense of the less vocal groups. The search for intelligent life - on this planet, as much as on others - deserves better than that.

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Message 1101026 - Posted: 27 Apr 2011, 14:03:41 UTC
Last modified: 27 Apr 2011, 14:10:09 UTC

http://apnews.myway.com/article/20110426/D9MRKPU80.html

(BTW I pulled this link from today's Drudge Report)

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Message 1101052 - Posted: 27 Apr 2011, 16:27:23 UTC - in response to Message 1101026.

And let the misinformation begin. http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/forum_thread.php?id=63890&nowrap=true#1100901 Dirk has pointed us to a German website that talks of the closing but shows the S@H screensaver. This is disturbing in that people are very likely to think they are one and the same.
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Message 1101057 - Posted: 27 Apr 2011, 16:39:56 UTC - in response to Message 1101022.


Does this mean the Green Bank data is unlikely to appear, given the budget constraints, or is that still going ahead? There was some talk of using data from Parkes too.


The Green Bank data is sure to happen. The splitter and any client changes necessary to handle it are a bit farther in the future. If one or more of us has to go working less time, it would slow down, but not stop.

The Astropulse reobservations at Arecibo are sure to happen as well.

There aren't any solid commitments as far as Parkes goes. At least none that I'm aware of.

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Message 1101058 - Posted: 27 Apr 2011, 16:43:08 UTC - in response to Message 1101005.

Eric has originated the fabulous concept of the "ninja supermodel robot"!!!!


What's the point of having a supermodel robot that's not a ninja? Or a ninja robot that's not a supermodel?
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Message 1101097 - Posted: 27 Apr 2011, 19:48:23 UTC - in response to Message 1101052.

And let the misinformation begin. http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/forum_thread.php?id=63890&nowrap=true#1100901 Dirk has pointed us to a German website that talks of the closing but shows the S@H screensaver. This is disturbing in that people are very likely to think they are one and the same.

And later on in that article, it is "stated" that SETI@home is working on ATA data.

So much for the accurateness of journalistic investigation :-(

Gruß,
Gundolf

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