At the risk of some copyright infringement, I link to an article published in Nature today (27 July 2011). First, please read the article. All the way through. It's 3 pages. I'll wait.
The article points out that the Allen Telescope Array was a big effort compared to other SETI related research. Fair enough. The scale at the ATA is larger than anything else being done that involves SETI research. The article also downplays that the ATA was designed to be exceptionally good as a multi-role instrument.
Waldrop is correct in saying that the NSF cut off funding to the ATA because it was not big enough. That's right. You heard me. Had the ATA been able to have, say, another 40-86 antennas (yes, there's a magical 128 number in there), then the power of the instrument would and could justify larger operating funds from the NSF. The ATA has an exceptional potential for doing fundamental astronomy research. The work on the ATA has already made huge contributions to the next generation of radio telescopes (especially the Square Kilometer Array or SKA). And yet, the conceit of the article is that the ATA is and was too big and that perhaps it is better to do SETI research in cheaper ways. The dissonance here is frustrating.
Don't just take my word for it. About 147 of the top astrophysicists and astronomers in the United States put together a report called the 2010 Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey and included:
"Progress on development of the SKA-mid pathfinder instruments---the Allen Telescope Array in the United States ... will provide crucial insight in the optimal path toward a full SKA." [page 92] and that the ATA is amongst, "...radio observatories [that] have been judged as world-leading, on the basis of both their technical performance and the desire of radio astronomers to use them. ... The small facilities provide unique scientific capabilities, training and technical development..." [pages 168-170] (my emphasis) while those same small facilities receive a pittance in funding ($10 million/year across a dozen facilities vs hundreds of millions spent on ALMA and the NRAO supported big instruments like the EVLA [again, pages 169-170]). (see: Astro2010: The Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey)
Kepler Objects of Interest, or KOIs, are planets. Well, maybe they are planets. Each KOI references a star and the fact that a planet may be in orbit around that star. As part of a data release to the public on 01 Feb 2011, the Kepler science team published over 1200 KOIs, 54 appear to be planets that are within the habitable zone of their respective star, i.e. an orbit that could support the lukewarm temperatures for liquid water, and therefore of immediate interest to anyone Searching for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.
The star HR8799 hit the news in 2008 when direct images of planets orbiting it (seen at right, labeled b,c and d) were published by Christian Marois and his team at the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics. Taking direct images of planets around other stars is extremely difficult, as the brightness of the star exceeds the reflections from its planets by many thousands of times and, up until now, required using the most sophisticated telescopes available (Hubble, Keck, etc...).
However, a counter intuitive relationship between resolution and primary mirror size can enable this sort of direct imaging of exoplanets on much smaller telescopes.
Gorgeous infrared imagery from the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA). An ESO Press Release goes deep:
Looking to the region above the centre of the picture, curious red features appear that are completely invisible except in the infrared. Many of these are very young stars that are still growing and are seen through the dusty clouds from which they form. These youthful stars eject streams of gas with typical speeds of 700 000 km/hour and many of the red features highlight the places where these gas streams collide with the surrounding gas, causing emission from excited molecules and atoms in the gas. There are also a few faint, red features below the Orion Nebula in the image, showing that stars form there too, but with much less vigour. These strange features are of great interest to astronomers studying the birth and youth of stars.
via: Science Daily:
Astronomy & Astrophysics is publishing new 3D maps of the interstellar gas in the local area around our Sun. A French-American team of astronomers presents new absorption measurements towards more than 1800 stars. They were able to characterize the properties of the interstellar gas within each sight line.
Each year, the non-profit "Technology, Entertainment, Design" or TED Group, holds a conference with invited speakers from around the world, in a kind-of "Big Thinkers" hoedown.
In 2009, Jill Tarter, a director and co-founder of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, CA, won a TEDPrize, which comes with funding to help jump start a wish that the prize winner would like to see fulfilled. Jill's wish is being fleshed out by the work of Avinash Agrawal and the creation of http://www.setiquest.org
A major part of setiquest will be to take raw data from the Allen Telescope Array and load it into cloud computing services donated by Amazon. Those who sign up with setiquest will then help create algorithms to search for signals that might be hidden in the noise.
What you see in the Guardian and derStandard are 10+ year old images of an array that was used at HCRO until 2004. The telescopes were moved from HCRO in 2004 down near Bishop, CA (about 15 miles east of Big Pine, CA). These telescopes are now part of what is called the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter Astronomy (CARMA),,. Also, please der Standard, change your background color away from that vomit inducing cyanishness.
Depressingly, a Google image search for "Allen Telescope Array" turns up handsome examples of the ATA immediately...
source: google image search (feb 2010)