The truth is out there: at least 2300 people believe that the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is worth continuing. After hitting its $200,000 fundraising goal on 3 August, SETI announced that it will be putting its iconic Allen Telescope Array (ATA) back online after a 4-month hiatus.
The nonprofit SETI Institute announced on 22 April that grants from the University of California, Berkeley, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and others had run out and that SETI could no longer afford to operate the 42 radio telescopes that make up ATA. While some UC Berkeley scientists were laid off, others "were not idle," SETI spokesperson Karen Randall told ScienceInsider. They were kept at work analyzing the data they had. In the meantime, on a donation site, SETIstars.org, alien lovers pleaded with donors across the world to bring ATA out of "hibernation" and keep the search going. The gifts poured in from "around the globe, literally from everywhere that had an Internet connection," Randall says. "We were delighted." Even Contact star Jodie Foster chipped in.
But if E.T. does call, SETI still faces a challenge in keeping the line open: $200,000 is nowhere near enough to keep SETI operating for long. UC Berkeley has no immediate plans to renew funding. With that crucial support gone, SETI is talking to the U.S. Air Force and other potential sources of funding. This summer's $200,000 fundraising goal, Randall says, was a "catalyst to get things started in establishing the interest of the public," but the institute can't rely on the public's support alone.