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British scientists team up to search for intelligent extraterrestrial life

British scientists are combining forces to find aliens.

(Credit: Mike Peel; Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, University of Manchester)
The Lovell radio telescope at Britain’s Jodrell Bank Observatory (Credit: Mike Peel; Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, University of Manchester)

SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has gained in popularity in recent years, and the majority of SETI-related research has been based in the United States. But now, astronomers from eleven institutions in the UK have teamed up to increase their alien-hunting efforts. The Guardian explains, “British astronomers have drawn up plans to scour the heavens for signs of alien life using a network of telescopes that can detect broadcasts from other planets. Seven major telescopes across the country would gather data for the project and send information over hundreds of kilometres of fibre-optic cables to analysts at Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire.”

Tim O'Brien (Credit: Jodrell Bank Observatory)
Tim O’Brien (Credit: Jodrell Bank Observatory)

This plan was announced at the University of St Andrews in Scotland on Friday, July 5 at the 2013 National Astronomy Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society. Tim O’Brien, the deputy director of Jodrell Bank, described at the meeting how the eMerlin telescope network could benefit the search for intelligent extraterrestrials. He stated, “We now have the capability to collect radiowaves across a wide swathe of the radiowave spectrum, and that allows us to look at the possibility of searching for the sorts of signals that might be created by ET civilisations.” He told the Guardian, “Ask astronomers do they think ET exists and most will tell you yes . . . We don’t know what the nature of life would be, or whether it wants to communicate with us, but since we’re collecting all this data anyway, it seems rather remiss not to search for ET signals.”

Alan Penny (Credit: University of St Andrews)
Alan Penny (Credit: University of St Andrews)

This new network of institutes is called the UK SETI Research Network (UKSRN), and it will fund research that explores new ways to find extraterrestrial intelligence. The network will also buy time on radio telescopes. Astronomer Alan Penny, coordinator of the UKSRN, told NBC News, “At the moment, America’s the place that does [SETI]. There’s no other place that comes close. We want to become No. 2.” According to Penny, UKSRN will ask to be included in the British government’s science budget. Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, who serves as UKSRN’s patron, plans to plead the group’s case to the government in an effort to secure the required £1m (approx. $1.5m) in annual funding.

Jason McClellan

Jason McClellan is a UFO journalist and the producer/co-host of the web series Spacing Out! He is also the web content manager and staff writer for OpenMinds.tv, and a co-organizer and technical producer of the International UFO Congress. As a founding member of Open Minds, Jason served as a writer and editor for the now defunct Open Minds magazine. He has appeared on Syfy, NatGeo, and, most recently, he co-starred on H2's Hangar 1: The UFO Files. ------ Follow Jason on Twitter @acecentric and subscribe to Jason's updates on Facebook.

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  1. The UK Seti Research Network (UKSRN), according to a presentation at the National Astronomy Meeting on July 5, is designed to cover a broad range of research topics, including potential methods for detecting signals, the linguistic challenge of deciphering messages, the probability of an extraterrestrial civilization interacting with Earth and the longevity of civilizations.

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