Researchers from 11 British academic institutions are joining forces to actively search for extraterrestrial life. The recently formed UK Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Research Network (UKSRN) held its first meeting July 5, with researchers from the Universities of Oxford, St. Andrews, Edinburgh and Manchester taking part. Britain's Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, is the group patron.
The group is seeking about $1 million pounds per year in research funding, for projects that include technology development and using high-powered audio telescopes to detect possible signs of alien life.
"We hope that the existence of the sessions will excite interest in people in the UK astronomical community, who have been thinking about SETI, to contribute their work," the group wrote on its website. "We also hope that by exposing the whole range of UK SETI activities to the community it will promote a wider understanding of, and activity in, this subject, and the justifications for the allocation of a small fraction of the UK astronomy budget."
"I don't know whether [aliens] are out there, but I'm desperate to find out. It's quite possible that we're alone in the Universe," the group's coordinator, Alan Penny of St. Andrews School of Physics and Astronomy, told BBC News. "Think about the implications of that: if we're alone in the Universe then the whole purpose in the Universe is in us. If we're not alone, that's interesting in a very different way."
The group's American equivalent, the SETI Institute, is a non-profit organization created in 1984 that now employs more than 120 scientists. The SETI Institute receives funding from NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy and other government and private sources.
UK academic Paul Crowther told the BBC that he doubts the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) will allocate funds to SETI research. "British astronomy] faces the prospect of a reduced volume of research grants... I would be shocked if STFC's advisory panels rated the support of UKSRN higher than such scientifically compelling competition."