Posted by colby

At the risk of some copyright infringement, I link to an article published in Nature today (27 July 2011). First, please read the article. All the way through. It's 3 pages. I'll wait.

The article points out that the Allen Telescope Array was a big effort compared to other SETI related research. Fair enough. The scale at the ATA is larger than anything else being done that involves SETI research. The article also downplays that the ATA was designed to be exceptionally good as a multi-role instrument.

Waldrop is correct in saying that the NSF cut off funding to the ATA because it was not big enough. That's right. You heard me. Had the ATA been able to have, say, another 40-86 antennas (yes, there's a magical 128 number in there), then the power of the instrument would and could justify larger operating funds from the NSF. The ATA has an exceptional potential for doing fundamental astronomy research. The work on the ATA has already made huge contributions to the next generation of radio telescopes (especially the Square Kilometer Array or SKA). And yet, the conceit of the article is that the ATA is and was too big and that perhaps it is better to do SETI research in cheaper ways. The dissonance here is frustrating.

Don't just take my word for it. About 147 of the top astrophysicists and astronomers in the United States put together a report called the 2010 Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey and included:

"Progress on development of the SKA-mid pathfinder instruments---the Allen Telescope Array in the United States ... will provide crucial insight in the optimal path toward a full SKA." [page 92] and that the ATA is amongst, " observatories [that] have been judged as world-leading, on the basis of both their technical performance and the desire of radio astronomers to use them. ... The small facilities provide unique scientific capabilities, training and technical development..." [pages 168-170] (my emphasis) while those same small facilities receive a pittance in funding ($10 million/year across a dozen facilities vs hundreds of millions spent on ALMA and the NRAO supported big instruments like the EVLA [again, pages 169-170]). (see: Astro2010: The Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey)