SETI Telescope Given New Life by Jodie Foster to Seek Aliens

The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute’s online fundraiser raised $207,000 with the help of “Contact” actress Jodie Foster. Foster along with 2,000 other private donors have revived the SETI Institute, which has been struggling since last year.

The nonprofit institute had been forced to close some of its radio telescopes used to scan the skies and listen out for any signals from alien civilizations due to budget issues. The funds raised met the institute’s needs in keeping its Allen Telescope Array open until the end of this year.

The Allen Telescope Array (ATA) is SETI’s collection of 42 radio dishes at Hat Creek Radio Observatory in Northern California.

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Jodie Foster has a history with the SETI Institute. In 1997, she played Dr. Ellie Arroway, a SETI scientist, in the science fiction film “Contact.” A note attached to her donation said, “Just like Ellie Arroway, the ATA is “good to go” and we need to return it to the task of searching newly discovered planetary worlds for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.”

The ATA became operational in 2007, after Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, funded its construction. The array was originally a shared project between the SETI Institute and the UC Berkeley Astronomy Laboratory, which had to pull out this year because of state budget cuts and the loss of National Science Foundation grants.

The array costs $2.5 million to operate a year, according to the Associated Press.

The ATA is the first system to be used almost solely for seeking extraterrestrial intelligence, but is also used to gather data about black holes, pulsars, and magnetic fields in the Milky Way.

“The ATA could turn science fiction into science fact, but only if it is actively searching the skies,” concluded Foster’s note.

Tom Pierson, the co-founder of the SETI Institute, said he believes the project will be back online next month, Los Angeles Times reported.

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