UK joins the search for aliens ahead of Roswell anniversary

The British team joins a group of mostly American projects known collectively as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

Nearly 66 years to the day after a mysterious object crashed near Roswell, N.M., setting off speculations about a possible alien landing on Earth, a team of scientists in the United Kingdom has announced that they are throwing their own hats in the ring to search for extraterrestrial life.

Joining an array of mostly American projects known collectively as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), the UK SETI Research Network (UKSRN) will rent time on British radio telescopes such as the eMerlin array to listen for extraterrestrial signals and back research into new ways to locate alien life-forms.

"Ask astronomers do they think ET exists and most will tell you yes," said Tim O'Brien, deputy director of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, which runs eMerlin, in an interview with the Guardian. "We don't know what the nature of life would be, or whether it wants to communicate with us, but since we're collecting all this data anyway, it seems rather remiss not to search for ET signals."

The UKSRN held its first meeting at the National Astronomy Meeting in Scotland Friday, announcing that it would apply for 1 million pounds ($1.5 million) in government funding to rent time on UK radio telescopes and analyze the data it collects. That’s a contrast with SETI efforts in the United States, which are backed by private donors, reports Wired.

The announcement came just three days before the anniversary of the 1947 “Roswell incident,” when an unknown flying object crash-landed in the New Mexico desert. Witnesses and some later researchers claimed it was an alien ship, while the US government has maintained it was a surveillance balloon that was part of a classified cold war spying program known as Mogul. 

The new British SETI program has not yet been approved for public funding, but its leadership is hopeful the government will see the value of their project.

“If we had … half a percent of the money that goes into astronomy at the moment, we could make an amazing difference. We would become comparable with the American effort,” said Alan Penny, an astronomer at the University of St. Andrews and one of the leaders of the British SETI network, in an interview with the BBC. “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. And 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.”

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