Microsoft co-founder helping in search for extraterrestrial life

SEATTLE - Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is donating $11.5 million to help search for extraterrestrial life.

Allen is giving the money to the California-based SETI Institute to help build a telescope to search for radio waves from distant planets. The institute says such waves could be the easiest way to prove the existence of alien civilizations.

Allen's telescope, actually an array of hundreds of 12-foot dish receivers, will be used to listen for interstellar signals. It will be built at the Hat Creek Observatory, 290 miles northeast of San Francisco, on land operated by the University of California at Berkeley.

SETI uses similar arrays in Australia, West Virginia and Puerto Rico.

Microsoft's former chief technology officer, Nathan Myhrvold, is also contributing. He is giving $1 million to build an electronics laboratory to analyze data collected by the telescope.

The institute said the Allen Telescope Array should enable researchers to examine up to 12 stars at once.

SETI's work was the focus of a 1997 movie, ''Contact,'' starring Jodie Foster. So far, it has not found radio signals that could prove extraterrestrials exist.

But Myhrvold said scientists should keep searching.

''If we don't continue supporting projects like the Allen Telescope Array, our chances of discovery will remain at zero,'' he said.

The project is expected to cost $26 million and would be completed in 2005.

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