The Planetary Society’s connections to Arecibo include SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. In 1981, NASA and the Company teamed up to fund Suitcase SETI, a portable spectrum analyzer that could be installed on large radio telescopes like Arecibo. The project spurred many other efforts of the SETI Company, including SERENDIP, a collaboration with NASA, the National Science Foundation and the University of California at Berkeley to search for SETI signals in astronomical observations unrelated to Arecibo and in other observatories. SERENDIP data was eventually channeled to [email protected], a popular computer program that has allowed citizens around the world to search for SETI signals using additional computing power. The Planetary Society provided initial funding for the project.
The Arecibo Observatory plays a role in Contact, the 1985 novel by Planetary Society co-founder Carl Sagan about a scientist who finds a message from alien beings inside radio signals. The novel is based on a screenplay between Sagan and Ann Druyan and was adapted into a 1997 film starring Jodie Foster.
The Planetary Society is monitoring the situation as the scientific community explores its options to replace Arecibo’s capabilities. Any other activity at the telescope itself must prioritize the health and safety of engineers, scientists and technicians.