SpaceRef

SpaceRef


Paul G. Allen Charitable Foundation Funds Next Phase in Construction of the World's Newest Radio Telescope Array

Press Release From: SETI Institute
Posted: Monday, March 22, 2004

The SETI Institute and UC Berkeley announce phased construction plan of the Allen Telescope Array

Three years of successful research and development expedites scientific investigation by years

Investor and philanthropist Paul G. Allen has committed $13.5 million to support the construction of the first and second phases of the Allen Telescope Array (the ATA-32 and ATA-206), the world's newest multiple use radio telescope array. The ATA will eventually consist of 350 - 6.1-meter dishes (ATA-350), when construction is completed late in the decade. The announcement was made today by Thomas Pierson, chief executive officer for the SETI Institute, a leading astrobiology institution with the mission of exploring the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe. The ATA is a partnership between the SETI Institute and the Radio Astronomy Laboratory of the University of California, Berkeley (RAL).

Today's announcement follows the successful completion of a three-year research and development phase which was originally funded by an $11.5 million gift from the Allen Foundation. The R & D proved that one of the primary advantages of the array design - its scalability - makes it possible for the ATA to conduct scientific investigations as soon as the first 32 dishes are installed.

Pierson also announced that the ATA-32 is scheduled to begin conducting scientific investigations by the end of 2004, significantly earlier than the 350 element array can be completed.

The ATA will be a general-purpose radio telescope that will provide fundamentally new measurements and insights into the density of the very early universe, the formation of stars, the magnetic fields in the interstellar medium, and a host of other applications of deep interest to astronomers. At the same time, this 21st Century radio telescope will also have the capability to search for possible signals from technologically advanced civilizations elsewhere in the galaxy.

"I am very excited to be supporting one of the world's most visionary efforts to seek basic answers to some of the fundamental question about our universe and what other civilizations may exist elsewhere," said Paul G. Allen, primary funder of the ATA. "I am a big proponent of leveraging revolutionary technology and design and applying it to important problems in science. The developments taking place with this new instrument will not only enables us to realize a lot of bang for our research and development buck, but it will also change the landscape of how telescopes will be built in the future. An instrument of this magnitude, which will result in the expansion of our understanding of how the universe was formed, and how it has evolved, and our place therein, is the reason I am the primary supporter of its development, design and construction."

Allen's $13.5 million funding, structured as a challenge grant, will allow construction and operation of the first phase of 32-dishes by the end of the year. It will also support construction of the second phase of 174 additional dishes (the ATA-206), which is contingent upon fulfilling the Foundations' challenge grant, in response to which the Institute will raise $16 million in additional support.

"It is especially thrilling to see the Allen Telescope Array approach its first significant milestone," said SETI Institute CEO Tom Pierson. "We are grateful for the additional support from the Allen Foundation that is making this new facility - and further discovery - possible. Mr. Allen and his Foundation have set the bar high. Mr. Allen's support of this worthwhile project, when matched by other supporters of radio astronomy and SETI, will quickly bring this project to fruition."

The ATA is the result of a multi-faceted private-public partnership between the SETI Institute and the RAL. It differs in practice, appearance, and cost from traditional radio telescopes currently in use. When completed, the ATA-350 will be among the world's largest and fastest observing instruments.

Rather than a single enormous dish or several large dishes, the ATA will be constructed using hundreds of specially produced small dishes. The telescope will incorporate innovative technologies and modern, miniaturized electronics in concert with increasingly affordable computer processing. These new technologies, combined with the ability to conduct continuous observations, will increase SETI search speed by 300 times over previous efforts and simultaneously allow astronomers to conduct complex radio astronomy projects requiring long-term observations. And the instrument will achieve these goals at one-fifth the cost of traditional radio telescopes of comparable collecting area and complexity.

In its first phase, the ATA-32 will have more antennas than any of the world's other centimeter-wavelength radio telescopes. The individual antennas will be linked by fiber optics. The fiber, power, and air distribution systems will be installed in ten-antenna "nodes," an efficient way to maintain the cool operating temperature required by the equipment.

The ATA-32 will observe in the direction of the galactic anti-center to detect primordial deuterium, study dark matter in nearby dwarf galaxies, generate maps of polyatomic molecules in molecular clouds, and conduct a SETI survey of the inner galaxy.

"I am eager to begin observing on the ATA," commented Dr. Jill C. Tarter, ATA project leader and Director of the Center for SETI Research at the Institute. "Conducting observations 24/7 is a dream come true for any astronomer, and it is particularly exciting for the Institute's astronomers, who have been constrained by limited time on other large centimeter wavelength telescopes. Finally, our tools are becoming commensurate with the size of our task."

Scientists believe that radio waves, such as those commonly produced by a variety of technologies on Earth and traveling at light-speed through interstellar space, may offer the easiest way to detect evidence of a technologically sophisticated civilization elsewhere in the galaxy. With sufficient collecting area, it is possible to detect signals from a distant technology that are no more powerful than those produced on Earth today.

Dr. Leo Blitz, professor of astronomy and director of the Radio Astronomy Laboratory at UC Berkley said, "The ATA will revolutionize radio astronomy, making it possible to provide answers to the two biggest questions in astronomy: How did we get here? Are we alone?" Blitz went on to say, "The ATA's ability to make radio images over large swaths of sky, to make measurements over an unprecedented range of radio wavelengths, and its ability to do several kinds of observations at once, provide a power and flexibility that will allow astronomers to address whole areas of astronomy that are currently inaccessible. Because of the telescope's unique capabilities, I expect that we'll discover things we don't even know are out there."

Construction of the ATA is underway at the Hat Creek Observatory, 290 miles northeast of San Francisco on a site operated by the RAL. The Hat Creek Observatory is located in an area that is 'radio quiet,' thereby reducing the level of interfering signals from man-made sources.

About Dr. Jill C. Tarter

Dr. Jill C. Tarter, director of SETI Research at the Institute, heads the ATA project. Tarter received her undergraduate degree in Engineering Physics from Cornell University and her Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of California at Berkeley, where her major field of study was theoretical high-energy astrophysics. As a graduate student at Berkeley in the early-70s, she became involved in the beginning stages of a small search for radio signals from extraterrestrial civilizations using the Hat Creek Observatory's 85-foot telescope. That project, SERENDIP, which continues today, provided a natural introduction to the newly formed Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Program Office at NASA's Ames Research Center, where Dr. Tarter eventually pursued an NRC Resident Associateship.

Beginning in 1984, Tarter served as a Principal Investigator for the non-profit SETI Institute in Mountain View, CA, and as Project Scientist for NASA's High Resolution Microwave Survey (HRMS), until its termination by Congress in October 1993. She was named the initiating holder of the Institute's Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI Research in 1998.

About Dr. Leo Blitz

Leo Blitz is a Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Radio Astronomy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests focus mainly on how galaxies, including the Milky Way, form and evolve and how interstellar gas within galaxies is converted into stars, such as the Sun. His main work is on the earliest stages of star formation and the dynamics, structure, and evolution of the Milky Way and other galaxies. In one current project, Blitz studies the nature of dark matter on galactic scales, particularly in dwarf galaxies and in the outer parts of the Milky Way. He's also working on how the diffuse interstellar medium generates star-forming giant molecular clouds in different environments, and is trying to unravel the basic physics of star formation on galactic scales. Of particular interest is the nature of the High Velocity Clouds of atomic hydrogen which may be gas left over from the formation of the Milky Way.

Funding the ATA and the SETI Institute

Over the course of the next three years, through a comprehensive campaign called The Quest, the Institute will raise $62 million to support the completion of the ATA-350, and to provide for the ongoing endeavors of its engineers and scientists and educators pursuing all aspects of astrobiology. "It is an ambitious campaign that matches the extraordinary reach of the Institute's vision," said Institute CEO Tom Pierson.

Opportunities abound for donors to participate in the building of the telescope, endowing research chairs, supporting laboratory and field research, and in assisting the launch of K-12 curriculum designed to build upon children's natural enthusiasm for astronomy, finding extraterrestrial life, and the wonders of science. "The Quest is an international campaign befitting the global importance of the science in which the SETI Institute and the University of California, Berkeley engage," Pierson added.

About The SETI Institute

The not-for-profit SETI Institute, founded in 1984, conducts a broad range of astrobiology research. Institute projects include the world's most comprehensive work in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and a wide variety of research and education programs related to the search for life beyond Earth. On March 5, 2004, the Institute completed Project Phoenix at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The nine-year project searched more than 750 nearby stars, seeking evidence of radio signals from technologically advanced civilizations. The Institute employs over 100 people, in a variety of fields, including science and technology aspects of astronomy and the planetary sciences, chemical evolution, the origin of life, and biological evolution. Among its staff and Board, the Institute counts two Nobel Prize winners, five members of the National Academy of Sciences, two members of the National Academy of Engineering, a MacArthur Fellow, two fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and four members of the International Academy of Astronautics.

The Institute also has scores of scientists, engineers, and researchers involved in a variety of current and future NASA projects aimed at exploring the solar system, with a particular focus on understanding the origin and nature of life. Among these projects is the current Mars Exploration Rovers mission, in which several Institute scientists are involved. For more information about the SETI Institute visit: www.seti.org .

About the Radio Astronomy Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley

Created in 1958, UC Berkeley's Radio Astronomy Laboratory (RAL) fosters interdisciplinary research in radio astronomy, mainly through its observatory at Hat Creek. The Hat Creek observatory currently hosts the BIMA array, a state-of-the-art array of ten radio telescopes that operate at millimeter wavelengths, one of only four such facilities in the world. The array produces images of cosmic radio sources, allowing researchers to study galaxy and star formation, galaxy evolution, and the distribution of dark matter, protostars, comets, and other features of our universe. In 1998, the RAL entered into an agreement with the SETI Institute to jointly design, build, and operate the ATA. The BIMA telescopes will soon be moved to a site in the Inyo Mountains, 11 miles northeast of Big Pine, Calif., and combined with the six telescopes of Caltech's OVRO array to form a new, more powerful instrument for millimeter wavelength astronomy known as CARMA.

About Paul G. Allen

Investor and philanthropist Paul G. Allen creates and advances world-class projects and high-impact initiatives that change and improve the way people live, learn, work and experience the world through arts, education, entertainment, sports, business and technology. He co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1976, remained the company's chief technologist until he left Microsoft in 1983, is the founder and chairman of Vulcan Inc., and chairman of Charter Communications. In addition, Allen's multibillion dollar investment portfolio includes large stakes in DreamWorks SKG, Oxygen Media and more than 50 other technology, media and content companies. Allen also owns the Seattle Seahawks NFL and Portland Trail Blazers NBA franchises. Named one of the top 15 philanthropists in America, Allen gives back to the community through the six Paul G. Allen Foundations, which strengthen communities and support vulnerable populations in the areas of arts, health and human services, medical research and technology in education. Allen is also founder of Experience Music Project, Seattle's critically acclaimed interactive music museum, The Allen Institute for Brain Science, the forthcoming Science Fiction Museum (opening summer 2004), and Vulcan Productions, the independent film production company behind Todd Haynes' "Far From Heaven." The company also produced the 2001 "Evolution" series on PBS, and the critically acclaimed seven-part series "The Blues", executive produced by Martin Scorsese in conjunction with Allen and Jody Patton.

Learn more about Allen online at www.vulcan.com.

For further information or to make a donation to the ATA, please contact The SETI Institute at 650.961.6633 or email: membership@seti.org .

// end //

More news releases and status reports or top stories.

Please follow SpaceRef on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.