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Wildfire threatens a SETI telescope in California

Wildfire threatens a SETI telescope. View of the Dixie Fire from the Allen Telescope Array in Hat Creek, California. Image by way of Alex Pollak/ SETI Institute.

Wildfire threatens a SETI telescope

The SETI Institute said late Friday (September 10, 2021) that the Allen Telescope Array is being threatened by the big Dixie Fire in California. This radio telescope is the primary to be designed particularly for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). On Friday afternoon, the hearth was roughly 12 miles (19 km) south of the Array. Scientists and engineers usually on-site have been evacuated as a precautionary measure in response to an order from the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office. Inciweb said on Saturday morning (September 11) that this fireplace was 59% contained.

According to InciWeb, the Dixie Fire now covers simply wanting one million acres, or an space bigger than the state of Rhode Island. It ranks because the second-largest hearth in California historical past, simply shy of final yr’s August Complex fires.

The SETI Institute said:

According to Alex Pollak, the Array’s Science and Engineering Operations Manager, the hearth’s sluggish northward march has provoked the necessity for evacuation. Anticipating the likelihood that it’d attain the antennas, the observatory employees contacted the U.S. Forest Service’s Fire Department to organize the positioning towards eventual injury. Two groups from the Forest Service, a couple of dozen individuals in total, eliminated brush from close to the antennas. Trees within the space had been pruned of any branches decrease than 10 ft [about 2 meters] above the bottom.

This isn’t the primary time the Allen Telescope Array has been threatened by hearth. In the summer season of 2014, the so-called Eiler fire reached State Highway 89, roughly two miles from the antennas. The SETI Institute stated:

The mom-and-pop Circle Ok restaurant, the one public eating facility in Hat Creek, met its finish in that conflagration.

Two dish-type radio antennas with the Milky Way in the background.
The Allen Telescope Array consists of 42 antennas used within the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. They are situated on the Hat Creek Observatory, located within the Cascade Mountains about 300 miles north of San Francisco. Image by way of SETI Institute.

Telescopes and wildfires

The SETI Institute defined:

It is an unlucky incontrovertible fact that environments which are appropriate for radio telescopes – together with the Allen Telescope Array – are additionally steadily locations the place wildfires are commonplace. Since microwaves, the kind of radio indicators sought by the Array, should not hampered by Earth’s ambiance, there’s no motive to put such devices on mountain tops, as is completed for optical telescopes.

But like their mirror-and-lens cousins, radio telescopes are typically situated in rural areas. The indicators sought by the Allen Array are presumed to be extraordinarily faint, and radio quiet is a necessity. The Hat Creek Radio Observatory, the place the Array is situated, was established in 1959 and is now run by the SETI Institute. It was intentionally located in a area of low inhabitants density. The surrounding panorama consists of pasture and forest land. On most days there are extra cattle close to the positioning than individuals.

Map and dialog box showing location and info about Dixie Fire.
The location of the Dixie Fire is highlighted in yellow on the map. To view this map interactively, go to CalFire.

Bottom line: Wildfire is threatening the Allen Telescope Array in California. This telescope was constructed particularly for SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). Scientists and engineers have been evacuated from the positioning. The hearth was 12 miles (19 km) away on Friday.

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