Take a Tour Around the Telescope Array Where We're Searching for Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life

By Rebecca J. Rosen

An interactive panoramic view of the place where scientists are hoping to make the first human contact with alien life

"When we get evidence of intelligent life out there, it's going to come through Hat Creek. That's going to be the place, " says Ron Barrett of Alameda, California, the photographer behind this interactive panoramic of the Allen Telescope Array. The 42 radio telescopes are pointed at the skies over the town of Hat Creek in northern California.

Barrett visited Hat Creek in January at the invitation of Jill Tarter, the director of the Center for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Research who announced her retirement earlier this week. When Barrett arrived at the site, all of the radio-telescope dishes were pointed down for maintenance. Barrett asked for them to rotate for the pictures and, "It was like being God. All of the sudden all of these things were pointed to the sky," Barrett says. During Barrett's tour of the site, Gerry Harp -- who is to succeed Tarter -- told him he believed that a signal from intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy could come "at any time" now, and that with new evidence from NASA's Kepler mission to find habitable planets, they were able to better train the telescopes on promising sites in the galaxy. Barrett recalls, "I said to him, we're up here alone, just the two of us. But when you get that signal, this place is going to be inundated with people, selling t-shirts and checking it out. This place is destined to be a national shrine."

To make the image, Barrett shot some 340 separate photographs with his camera on a special tripod mount that allows him to make precise incremental adjustments to the camera's position.

Play around with the shot, expand it to the full screen, and be sure to point it to the skies. Think about this remote outpost of human civilization in the hills of northern California, and that first contact it may one day make. "It would probably be one of the most Earth-shaking developments in the history of mankind," says Barrett. "And it's going to happen. We're right on the cusp of it."



Thanks to Ross Andersen for the tip. Ron Barrett can be reached here.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/05/take-a-tour-around-the-telescope-array-where-were-searching-for-extraterrestrial-intelligent-life/257484/