The first section of the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) has been powered up and is embarking on its mission to listen to a million stars.
The array, funded in part by Microsoft founder Paul Allen, will eventually include 350 individual six-metre radio telescopes, all searching the skies for signs of alien life.
"For SETI, the ATA's technical capabilities exponentially increase our ability to search for intelligent signals, and may lead to the discovery of thinking beings elsewhere in the universe," said Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute.
Allen told the New York Times the institute would ring him first if they found a signal using the ATA. "So far, the phone hasn't rung," he told the paper.
As well as seeking out signs of advanced alien civilisation, something its backers hope it will do by 2025, the ATA will also be useful for more mundane (if such a word should ever be applied) astrophysics, such as mapping the Andromeda Galaxy, collisions between black holes, dark galaxies, and other run-of-the-mill stuff.
The design is based on an off-the-shelf satellite dish. The clever bit comes in the signal processing software that clears out interference. This is the combination Allen said attracted him to the project. He put in $25m in seed money to get the venture off the ground.
Now, the partners in charge, the Radio Astronomy Laboratory of the University of California, Berkeley, and the Seti Institute, reckon it will need another $41m to complete, depending on the price of aluminium, the NYT reports. The BBC puts the completion costs at $25m.