Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Tuesday 23/03/2004Space is the place, as Sun Ra said. So is Macclesfield, where a scale model of the solar system is being created.

Tuesday 23/03/2004
Space is the place, as Sun Ra said. So is Macclesfield, where a scale model of the solar system is being created. Even at a scale of 1:15 million, however, that leaves Pluto out in Fort William on the west coast of Scotland, and Uranus in Bath. Which leads to happy speculation about schoolchildren stopping policemen on the Bath streets and saying "We want to see Uranus, constable. Can you point it out to us?" Few of the reports of the Macclesfield cosmic caper say that there's already a 1:500 million scale model of the solar system already orbiting York -- and this one's on a cycle track, so you can pedal your way to Pluto at ten times the speed of light.

Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, philanthropist and professional investor, also likes space. The company founder has announced he's funding a brand new radio telescope, a huge array of dishes to scan the heavens for signals from other intelligences, establish whether they're able to communicate and then upload any security patches they may have missed. Paul Alien has kept SETI -- the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence -- alive in the past, as the discipline is often seen as just that little bit dodgy by its cousins in radio astronomy and astrophysics and frequently misses out on the begging bowl. This time, though, it's full speed ahead -- the Allen Telescope Array (or ATA) will have 350 dishes spread across the North Californian countryside.

All this is under the auspices of the SETI Institute, which has shepherded the search through good times and bad. It's clearly full of confidence these days, as you can see from its nice shiny Web site and persuasively corporate logo . But I do hope that there's no significance to the curious similarity between that logo and that of another famous bunch of aliens...