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SETI group deploys prototype telescope

graphic
An artist's rendering of the SETI Institute's planned array of satellite dishes designed to search for extraterrestrial communications  

April 21, 2000
Web posted at: 9:12 a.m. EDT (1312 GMT)

LAFAYETTE, California (CNN) -- An organization searching for signs of advanced alien life unveiled a prototype this week of what could become one of the world's largest radio telescopes.

The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute positioned seven 12-foot dishes near Berkeley, California. The institute plans to complete a radar array that contains 1,000 satellite dishes or more.

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Stargazing
 

Scientists hope the gigantic field of dishes can tune in to alien civilizations. By coordinating the reception of the receivers, SETI researchers can greatly amplify their listening capability, said Jill Tartar, director of SETI research at the institute.

"This prototype launches the next generation of SETI research in a bold way," she said in a statement. Tarter, the model for the E.T. intelligence searcher played by Jodi Foster in the movie "Contact," said her quest goes much further back than the 1997 blockbuster.

"I didn't wake up last week and start asking, are we alone? Its a question that people have looked up in the sky and have wondered about as long as we've had recorded history," she said.

Dish
SETI has already positioned seven of the dishes in a prototype array near Berkeley, California  

SETI and the University of California-Berkeley will use the prototype array as a workshop to develop the final radio telescope, which will cover 2.5 acres (1 hectare) at the Hat Creek Observatory, located about 290 miles (470 km) northeast of San Francisco.

"We want to build, for the first time, an instrument that takes hundreds of commercial satellite dishes, modified commercial satellite dishes, to build one of the largest radio telescopes in the world," said UC Berkeley radio astronomer Leo Blitz.

Scientists will use the prototype to find signal processing solutions that deal with interference, especially from telecommunications satellites. The small dish field will also help researchers calibrate and develop software and hardware for the final array.

The $25 million dish field is scheduled to operate in 2005. Once completed, it will be the world's largest telescope devoted to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and among the largest radio telescopes in the world.

It will compare in signal collecting area to the Very Large Array in New Mexico, radio astronomy's premier imaging instrument.

The SETI search will begin with 1,000 nearby stars and then eventually move outward to include 1 million stars in our galaxy. It will also conduct more traditional research in radio astronomy, such as examining the formation of stars, according to the institute.

Correspondent Don Knapp contributed to this report.



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