Cogan Station PA.., August 2001 - When most people think of radio telescopes, they envision massive engineering marvels like the huge Arecibo radio dish in Puerto Rico, or the 27 monster dishes that make up the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico. Both of these impressive facilities have been much pictured in recent films, such as Contact and Golden Eye. Now, a former Penn College engineering professor is trying to change that image, by building a prototype of the world's next great radio telescope in his backyard, on a quiet hilltop just North of Williamsport PA.
Dr. H. Paul Shuch heads up The SETI League, Inc., nonprofit leaders in a grass-roots Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. His patent-pending design is called Array2k, a new kind of radio telescope which will be taking shape over the next few years at a remote Northern New Jersey location. That name refers not to a year or computer crisis, but rather to the instrument's more than 2000 square feet of collecting area. This is equivalent to a single dish antenna over fifty feet in diameter, at about a tenth the cost.
To test out the Array2k design, which combines sixteen or more standard satellite TV antennas into a single, powerful radio telescope, Shuch is building an eight-dish prototype behind his North Central PA home. He calls his modest effort the Very Small Array, or VSA, a tribute to the better-known VLA out West. "This is an ideal setting for radio astronomy," notes Shuch. "Our region is blessed with a low cost of living, good infrastructure, a sizeable pool of skilled workers, and one of the country's lowest levels of radio pollution. I moved here from Silicon Valley eleven years ago, so I could turn this place into the Valley of the Dishes," he quips.
It was in Northern California that Shuch developed the world's first commercial home satellite TV receiver in 1978. Eighteen years later, under Shuch's leadership, The SETI League, Inc. pioneered the use of backyard satellite TV dishes for radio astronomy, with the launch of its Project Argus all-sky survey. The concept has been embraced by other scientific organizations, including the prestigious SETI Institute in California.
SETI scientists seek to determine through microwave and optical measurements whether humankind is alone in the universe. Since Congress terminated NASA's SETI funding in 1993, The SETI League and other scientific groups have been attempting to privatize the research. Experimenters interested in participating in the search for intelligent alien life, or citizens wishing to help support it, should email to join_at_setileague_dot_org, check the SETI League Web site at http://www.setileague.org/, send a fax to +1 (201) 641-1771, or contact The SETI League, Inc. membership hotline at +1 (800) TAU-SETI. Be sure to provide us with a postal address to which we will mail further information. The SETI League, Inc. is a membership-supported, non-profit [501(c)(3)], educational and scientific corporation dedicated to the electromagnetic Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.
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this page last updated 30 November 2002
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