Allen Telescope Array (ATA) and the Search for Life in Outer Space

Allen Telescope Array (ATA) and the Search for Life in Outer Space
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New Telescope to Look for Signs of Life

The vastness of space has enticed mankind since primitive times, and the ancient man might have wondered what lay in the skies so far away. Modern man, though much more sophisticated than his predecessors, has the same curiosity, but he is wise enough to devise complex tools to aid his search for life and mysteries in the heavens. As technology keeps improving, these tools also improve. The latest attempt to scan the skies for any possible sign of life is the Allen Telescope Array, more popularly known as The ATA.

Facts about the Allen Telescope Project

The Allen Telescope Array refers to a project which is a joint venture of the Institute for the Search of Extra-terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and the Radio Astronomy Lab at UC Berkeley (RAL). The actual location of the telescope is at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, which is located in Shasta County in California.

Interestingly, this project was previously known as the One Hectare Telescope, or the 1hT. Hectare is a large unit of area, and the project was so named because it was supposed to be built from hundreds of smaller telescopes which would prove much more cost effective than a single large telescope. To put it in the words of John Dreher of the RAL, the 1hT was a “large but low-cost array of small, fully-steerable parabolic antennas with a total area of 104 m2. 300 to 1000 elements, each 3.5 to 8 meters in diameter” (2000).

One more important item of mention is that the project’s name was changed to Allen Telescope, from One Hectare Telescope, in honour of Paul Gardner Allen, who is the co-founder of Microsoft and donated a huge sum of money for the cause of this extra terrestrial effort.

Technology Behind the Allen Telescope

Construction of the Allen Telescope in 2002

The ATA project is scheduled to be completed in four phases, with the first phase, known as ATA 42, completed in October 2007. The number 42 simply implies that out of the nearly 350 telescopes finalized for ATA, 42 were functional by the end of the first phase. The second phase was still in its early stages in January of 2009, and the last two will be finalized after the successful completion of the second phase.

This level of project certainly requires the latest technology, and although a detailed description is beyond the scope of this article, phase one utilized such concepts as 5 GHz Continuum Survey, Galactic Plane Molecular Spectroscopy, and SETI Galactic Center Survey. Broadly speaking, SETI is a radio telescope which is used to collect photons in the radio spectrum and focus them in an electronic receiver. This gives a supersensitive nature to these telescopes, allowing even some of the faintest signals from the sky to be observed.

Main Objectives

ATA aims to become the largest and most powerful observatory, having the power to scan the skies with immense sensitivity and help to unravel the mysteries of the universe to a deeper level than ever before. A few of the targets include studying the black holes, trying to detect SETI signals from over a million targets, and measuring magnetic fields related to the milky way.

With the proper support and funding for this project, mankind has an opportunity to learn more about the universe than it has ever known before.


Dreher, J. W. (2000) “Perspectives on Radio Astronomy: Technologies for Large Antenna Arrays,” Proceedings of the Conference held at the ASTRON Institute in Dwingeloo on 12-14 April 1999. Edited by A. B. Smolders and M. P. Haarlem. Published by ASTRON. ISBN: 90-805434-2-X, 354, p.33


ATA Telescopes - An Artist’s View:

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