For aliens looking to move about the galaxy undetected, Tuesday would've been a good day to travel.
A wildfire that has consumed more than 31,000 acres in northern California forced the temporary evacuation of a telescope facility used to monitor the skies for extraterrestrial life.
CNN reports that the Eiler Fire raging about 200 miles north of Sacramento came within a mile of the SETI Institute's Allen Telescope Array in Hat Creek on Tuesday, forcing staffers "to evacuate and temporarily shut down all of their computers, Internet, and power" for several hours.
"We can't listen when all that is down," Seth Shostak, senior astronomer and director at SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), told CNN. "The fire on the west had jumped the road, burnt down our favorite lunch place, got within a mile of the telescopes."
The Allen Telescope Array, funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, includes 42 antennas designed to listen for extraterrestrial activity "at centimeter wavelengths."
Despite the shutdown, Shostak downplayed the possibility that researchers had missed an E.T. discovery.
"We just lost some search hours," he said. "To expect that E.T. will somehow reach out at this moment, that would be very bizarre."
Power was later restored, but SETI staffers "have not been able to communicate with the antennas," Shostak wrote on the institute's blog late Tuesday. He expects the array to be back up and running by Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Eiler fire, which destroyed eight homes and threatened a little more than 700 others, is just 35 percent contained, but fire officials are hopeful that wet weather and increased humidity in the region will help to control the blaze.
- Seth Shostak
- Allen Telescope Array