The Allen Telescope Array (ATA) in California has been shelved due to funding shortfalls. The array, which monitors the skies for extra-terrestrial life, became the latest victim of US budget cuts.
The institute, Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), announced they would be cutting funding to the observatory to just 10 percent of its previous budget. The Hat Creek Radio Observatory north of San Francisco, California, hosts several telescopes with an objective to search for radio signals from intelligent life in the Universe.
A statement from SETI chief executive, Tom Pierson, said: "Effective this week, the ATA has been placed in hibernation due to funding shortfalls for operations of the Hat Creek Radio Observatory where the ATA is located."
The array was to have 350 telescopes, each one 20 feet in diameter, but just 42 are currently in operation. The Seti Institute was established in 1984 to look for extra-terrestrial life beyond Earth, reports the BBC Science news. A skeleton crew is expected to remain in place to look after the equipment and generally keep the dust off until funding becomes available once more. The project is funded from the US government and some private donors.
A Carl Sagan book and film Contact, which starred Jodie Foster, strongly featured the SETI project.
One disappointed science blogger called the timing of the funding cut "pretty poor". Soupdog wrote: "The timing is pretty poor as it was recently announced that NASA's Kepler space-craft had discovered around 1,200 earth-like planets that could potentially support life. These planets would have been targeted by SETI as possible sources of alien signals."
Institute CEO Tom Pierson told the Washington Post, there was a shortage of $5 million needed to fund the operation of the giant radio dishes.