A lack of funding has forced California's SETI Institute--that's the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence--to put its Allen Telescope Array into "hibernation," according to a letter CEO Tom Pierson sent to donors on April 22. The Allen array, a group of 42 radio dishes paid for with a donation from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, has been scanning the skies for years in the hopes of detecting evidence of alien life. But money from the National Science Foundation and the state of California has run out, and the dishes are powering down until SETI can find a new benefactor. (They've got their eye on the Air Force, which sounds like a movie waiting to happen.)
The news has occasioned plenty of dismay among scientific (and pop-scientific) types--including, obviously, the SETI folks themselves. The San Jose Mercury News notes that "the timing couldn't be worse, say SETI scientists... This spring astronomers announced that 1,235 new possible planets had been observed by Kepler, a telescope on a space satellite. They predict that dozens of these planets will be Earth-sized -- and some will be in the 'habitable zone,' where the temperatures are just right for liquid water, a prerequisite of life as we know it."