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The SETI Project: They Are Not Alone

An array of 42 radio telescopes seeking signs of intelligent life in the universe will continue that work after private donors raised enough money to keep them going.

Photo: 20th Century Fox Television

The San Jose Mercury Newsreports that the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, Institute received more than $200,000, including donations from actress Jodie Foster, to keep operating.

The array was originally a joint project between the SETI Institute and the UC Berkeley Astronomy Laboratory, which pulled out earlier this year because of the loss of National Science Foundation grants, and state budget cuts.

Senior SETI Institute astronomer Seth Shostak said he was gratified the money able to be raised during these tough enconomic times.

"But people still think this very fundamental question — is there somebody out there as intelligent or more so than us? — is important and worth doing," he said.

The telescopes will be turned back on in September, recalibrated and operated 24 hours a day for the rest of the year as more funds are sought.

At full staffing of 10 people, the array costs $2.5 million a year to operate. As a whole, the SETI Institute has an $18 million budget and 140 employees. The funding which comes from donors, NASA and the National Science Foundation.

SETI Institute CEO Tom Pierson told supporters in a letter that his goal is to raise $5 million so that the radio dishes can be pointed at 1,235 new so-called "exoplanets" that were announced in February by NASA's Kepler mission.

The array is not only used to search for E.T.s, but is also contributing to research into black holes, pulsars and magnetic fields in the Milky Way.

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