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Reduced federal dollars and a state budget crisis has put the Allen Telescope Array into hibernation

A lack of funding has temporarily shut down a group of radio telescopes that are used to search the universe for signs of extraterrestrial life. 

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, or SETI, is located in Mountain View, California and is dedicated to searching the skies for signs of extraterrestrial life through two separate SETI centers: The Center for SETI Research, which looks for signs of extraterrestrial technology, and the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, which studies the origin and evolution of life forms on Earth and throughout the universe.  

SETI works with the University of California-Berkeley's Radio Astronomy Lab to operate the Allen Telescope Array, which is a field of "dish-like scopes" that is located 290 miles northeast of San Francisco, California. There are 42 telescopes that are 20-feet wide, and worked 24 hours per day. 

Research and development for the Allen Telescope Array began in 2001 after a healthy contribution of $11.5 million came from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. Then, in 2004, Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen donated $13.5 million to the construction of these telescopes. The telescope array was completed and functional in 2007, and it was named after Allen, who had contributed more than $25 million by the end of the project. 

But now, reduced federal dollars and a state budget crisis have put the Allen Telescope Array into hibernation. On April 22, SETI CEO Tom Pierson sent a letter to donors saying that the telescopes will temporarily be out of operation, and that SETI and UC Berkeley's Radio Astronomy Lab will experience staff cuts. 

Since last month, SETI has been searching for donations to help fund the Allen Telescope Array project. According to Karen Randall, SETI's director of special projects, the institute needs $5 million in order to continue operating at the rate it has been since 2007. SETI has not discussed its financial woes with Allen at this point. 

The lab is also planning to lay off four people, which will leave two people as support staff. 

Despite the temporary shut down, there is a bright side. The Allen Telescope Array will resume when the new round of funding goes into effect in 2013. That round will assure that the project stays operative until 2018. 

In addition, SETI has other telescopes across the world that can be used while the Allen Telescope Array is on break. For instance, radio telescopes are placed in Puerto Rico, Australia and West Virginia as a way of "listening to the universe."

"Obviously, we want to be prepared for these kinds of things," said Randall. "We are working on some other angles that have bubbled up that will basically not be so vulnerable to budget cycles." 





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