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SETI: The Next Generation

New telescope technology is expanding the search for extraterrestrial life.
October 17, 2007

Last week, the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute and the University of California, Berkeley, unveiled the first 42 radio dishes of the new Allen Telescope Array (ATA). This telescope–essentially a set of dish-shaped antennas that collect radiation from space–will point toward the sky, scanning it for stray signals and signs of extraterrestrial life. Eventually, the array will consist of a staggering 350 dishes.

Previously, most radio telescope arrays have had a relatively small number of antennas. But because of the drop in cost of high-performance radio amplifiers, it’s now feasible to build a large number of small dishes–each one in the ATA is six meters in diameter–while keeping costs down.

With 42 dishes, the radio will have a wide-angle view of the sky, be able to observe several star systems concurrently, and monitor 40 million radio channels. According to a press release on SETI’s website, the ATA will eventually look at a million nearby start systems–a thousand times more systems than has ever been examined in the past.

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