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US military pays SETI to check Kepler-22b for aliens

'Space situational awareness' cash for Allen Array

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The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has announced that it is back in business checking out the new habitable exoplanets recently discovered by NASA's Kepler space telescope to see if they might be home to alien civilisations. The cash needed to restart SETI's efforts has come in part from the US Air Force Space Command, who are interested in using the organisation's detection instruments for "space situational awareness".

"This is a superb opportunity for SETI observations," said Jill Tarter, the Director of the Center for SETI Research, in a statement issued yesterday. "For the first time, we can point our telescopes at stars, and know that those stars actually host planetary systems - including at least one that begins to approximate an Earth analog in the habitable zone around its host star. That's the type of world that might be home to a civilization capable of building radio transmitters."

NASA has just announced the discovery of many exoplanets orbiting other stars by its Kepler spacecraft, inclusing the world Kepler-22b - described as Earth's "twin" by the space agency - which orbits a Sun-like G type star some 600 lightyears away at such a distance that it could well have liquid water on its surface and thus be home to life along Earthly lines.

Intriguingly, SETI notes that its resurgence and new mission of examining the Kepler-discovered planetary systems is partially funded by the US military:

The restart of SETI work at the ATA has been made possible thanks to the interest and generosity of the public who supported SETI research via the http://www.SETIStars.org website. Additional funds necessary for observatory re-activation and operations are being provided by the United States Air Force as part of a formal assessment of the instrument's utility for Space Situational Awareness ...

Could it be that the Pentagon are doing something useful for once and making sure that if there are any potentially hostile alien civilisations out there, they'll find out early on?

Well no, sadly for those who like their aliens. In fact Space Command are much more concerned about tracking satellites in orbit around Earth, and consider that the innovative Allen Array could be handy in picking up transmissions from spacecraft so as to help the existing military Space Surveillance Network keep a handle on where they are.

Even so, should SETI detect signs of radio-using life at any of the newly pinpointed potentially habitable star systems, Space Command will probably be very glad they helped to fund the Institute's restart. ®

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