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.