ET, Don’t Bother Phoning. SETI Can’t Hear You Anymore.

Unable to pay for daily operations, SETI shutters the Allen Array of radio telescopes.

Our universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding,
In all of the directions it can whiz;
As fast as it can go, that’s the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute and that’s the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth;
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere out in space,
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth!

- Eric Idle

The giant radio dishes used by SETI to scan the heavens for messages from alien civilizations have gone deaf, thanks to a lack of government support. Now if aliens try and reach out to us all they’ll get is ‘The number you are trying to reach is no longer in service.”

You know, the Dark Ages didn’t need some kind of horrible cataclysm to start. As the Roman Empire fell the world slowly descended into intellectual darkness. All that’s really required for another Dark Ages is a resurgence of ignorance and superstition (Creationism, Evangelicals, check!) coupled with the inability of the empire to support learning (just look around you. Check!).

Some might argue that SETI is a waste of money, but they’re probably the same people who wanted to invade Iraq and cut taxes for the rich, so their views on what’s fiscally smart remain forever suspect. SETI - and the space program - are both important parts of the future of humanity. Humans are not meant to be bound to this planet, and our tomorrow lies somewhere out there. As a species we’re explorers. We’re given to diaspora.

SETI isn’t over; they’ve just mothballed the Allen Array of telescopes, which they managed to fund with private donations. The Array is located a few hundred miles outside of San Francisco and will be protected while turned off, but SETI cannot afford the day to day operating costs.

The doubly tragic thing about this is that we’ve been finding more and more exoplanets, some of which could be in their local habitable zone. This allows SETI to target areas of the sky better, rather than just pointing the dishes at a spot and hoping for the best.

For more on the shutdown, click here.