On October 12, 1992, NASA’s Ames Research Center and Jet Propulsion Laboratory teamed up to launch a ten year program called High Resolution Microwave Survey (HRMS), as part of NASA’s Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program. The following year, the United States Congress in a budget balancing mood abruptly terminated funding for HRMS and any other SETI activities NASA was involved in. It was a major setback for astronomers, astrophysics and other ETI search advocates who believed we were closed to finding life beyond our own solar system.
Some of the NASA engineers working on the HRMS project jumped ship and joined the SETI Insitute, a private organization located in the Silicon Valley founded in the early 1980’s. But there were a lot of other scientist and amateur astronomers as well, who were interested in the SETI project and who wanted to do what they could to keep it going. Out of this grassroots contingent was born the SETI League.
The SETI League gained formal status as a corporation and was granted 501c-3 non profit recognition by the IRS in 1994. But rather than a formal business venture, non profit or otherwise, it might be better described as a loosely coupled consortium of professional and amateur astronomers, using satellite TV dishes and microwave receivers to search the skies for intelligible signals from outer space. In their own words, the organization describes it self as: The SETI League is a grassroots, international alliance of amateur and professional radioastronomers, radio amateurs, microwave experimenters and digital signal processing enthusiasts, who have banded together in a systematic, scientific search of the heavens to detect credible evidence of intelligent, extra-terrestrial life. (http://www.setileague.org/general/whatis.htm)
The organization reports a budget of about $30,000 per year, but this would not include the expenditures by members to purchase the 3-5 meter dishes and other equipment they use to search the sky. In this sense, the outfit is much more of an association then a tops down business operation, as compared with the SETI Institute. The association boasts a current capability of 121 antennas with a goal of achieving 5000.
The SETI League is most certainly a notable effort and commendable venture, but there is some question as to its effectiveness. Compared to the SETI Institutes Allen Telescope Array (ATA) which can survey a million frequencies at a time and which through interferometer heterodyne amplification can detect much weaker radio signals, the SETI League’s effort amounts to a puff of smoke amid a forest fire. But give these guys a chance and who knows, maybe they can someday link all those backyard dishes together to form one very big virtual telescope.