The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute announced December 5, 2011, that it will begin monitoring radio waves that it hopes might be sent out by life forms on a planet recently discovered by NASA. The Allen Telescope Array at Hat Creek Observatory near Redding, California, had been shut down since April 2011 for lack of funding by NASA, but has now raised monies from independent supporters and negotiated a deal with the U.S. Air Force in order to start operations once again.1
The search for extraterrestrial life is one of the foundational missions of NASA that drives not only the SETI project but also motivates many of the missions to the planets.2 Carl Sagan was a principal investigator of the Voyager program, one of the most successful early missions to fly by the planets of the solar system. The mission was heavily influenced by his interest in finding extraterrestrial life. The Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft are currently at the outer edge of the solar system and carry plaques on them with a message to be read by any extraterrestrials who might find them.
Carl Sagan was a strong advocate of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence because he believed there was no evidence for God and that evolution explained our existence. He told me in 1994 on the 25th anniversary of the SETI program which he helped sponsor, “We’ve been looking for intelligent life beyond the earth for over 25 years now, but we haven’t found any. There must be something special about the earth. I would be happy to find even stupid life!”3
The SETI radio telescope was brought out of mothballs because of the recent report that Kepler-22b, an earth-like planet, was found orbiting the “habitable zone” of the sun-like star KIC 10593626 about 600 light-years from earth.4,5,6 The position of the field of view in the sky is in the Cygnus-Lyra region just above the galactic plane looking down the Orion arm of our galaxy. It was reported to be the first planet with a measured radius to orbit the habitable zone of any star other than the sun….
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