Northern California wildfires disrupt search for extraterrestrial life

Operations at the SETI Institute's Allen Telescope Array, dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial activity, have been halted after a massive wildfire in Northern California temporarily shut down power.

Power was disrupted to the observatory Tuesday after one of two blazes in the region, the Eiler fire, breached Highway 89, burning less than a mile away from antennas in Hat Creek, said Seth Shostak, the institute's senior astronomer and director of SETI research.


"It makes the equipment at the observatory very unhappy," he said.

The power outage did affect the institute's ability to monitor space for extraterrestrial activity, but Shostak said it wasn't receiving any information before the disruption.

"Nobody can monitor anything 24/7," he said, adding that funding for the institute is limited.

Although the fire didn't destroy the antennas and is now burning away from the area, it caused some damage to computer systems and receivers, he said.

Electronics, Shostak said, were confused for a while and had to cool down. The systems are expected to be back up and running sometime Friday, he said.

The series of fires have burned more than 100,000 acres and forced several mountain communities to evacuate. 
The Elier fire alone has burned nearly 32,000 acres in the Lassen National Forest and was just 45% contained as of Thursday, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

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