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New Duty for SETI Dishes

Seven antennas of the Allen Telescope Array, used to study signals from remote galaxies, supernova remnants, extrasolar planetary systems, and the interstellar medium. Each antenna is about 20 feet wide. Credit: SRI/SETI Institute

A search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) has pulled in its antenna horns a bit to carry out a new agenda of scientific research – some of which is far closer to Earth.

The Allen Telescope Array (ATA) is situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory in Northern California and was built by the SETI Institute and the University of California with major funding from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

Paul Allen is a Microsoft co-founder.

Last week, the Silicon Valley, California-based SRI International announced it is the new manager of the Hat Creek Radio Observatory.

Under SRI’s new management role, the ATA is to be used to conduct space situational awareness and detect space debris under contract with the U.S. Air Force.

The privately operated SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. will continue to conduct research at the facilities.

Large number of small dishes

“As SRI begins to manage Hat Creek, we look forward to expanding the use of the Allen Telescope Array to support the wider scientific and technical community in radio astronomy and space science,” said Scott Seaton, vice president of SRI’s Engineering Research & Development Division in a press statement.

The ATA is a unique and flexible research instrument designed as a Large Number of Small Dishes array. It is a 42-dish radio telescope that can operate in multiple frequency bands while its digital hardware runs scientific experiments, such as creating images of the sky.

Located in a remote area, the ATA receives relatively low levels of radio interference and is surrounded by volcanic mountains that keep out interferences such as television, radio and distant cellular phone transmissions.

By Leonard David


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