Nobody will be answering Earth’s cosmic phone for the time being, thanks to budget cuts that have shut down the telescopes at the SETI Institute’s Allen Array. According to a letter from Institute CEO Tom Pierson - most of the annual funding for the program came from the state of California and the National Science Foundation. Now, a state budget crisis and reduced funding from the NSF has made it impossible to continue daily operations.
The institute will remain in what he calls ’hibernation’.
"Hibernation means that, starting this week, the equipment is unavailable for normal observations and is being maintained in a safe state by a significantly reduced staff."
The San Jose Mercury News reports the shutdown is depriving astronomers of their best way to search for life on other planets.
But there’s still hope for the telescopes. SETI is already looking for ways to get the facility operational again. And according to PCWorld, the telescopes might not be in hibernation for long.
"...the potentially good news is that the Air Force Space Command might consider using the ATA for "space surveillance"--snooping and tracking objects in space. Plus, it is not a permanent hiatus. When the California economy picks up and more donations pour through, the telescope ensemble could get back on its feet..."
Until SETI finds new funding - through donations or renewed federal support - the Allen Array will sit quiet.