NEWSLETTER

E.T., Phone Home to California

An Alien sculpture lines the side of the road in the town of Baker, California, which is also known as the 'Gateway to Area 51.'
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP
An Alien sculpture lines the side of the road in the town of Baker, California, which is also known as the 'Gateway to Area 51.'
In this week's newsletter, we tour West Coast spots devoted to finding life beyond Earth. 

The journey from the Owens Valley Radio Observatory in Big Pine, California, to 7121 Lonzo Street in Tujunga, nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, takes about four hours, depending on earthly traffic. OVRO is the site of hundreds of DIY antennae built by an ambitious Caltech professor and his team searching for habitable planets. Altacontributor Po Bronson visited the observatory to find out how chicken wire and cake pans might one day save humanity. Read his report here

The Tujunga residence served as E.T.’s temporary home after his fellow space aliens accidentally left him behind in the film E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Those who grew up with this Steven Spielberg classic might note that if E.T. found himself stranded in Tujunga today, he’d be just a few hours’ drive from some scientists who’d be very happy to help him phone home. In fact, the West Coast has a number of spots where excited earthlings aim high-powered lenses at the heavens and launch quirky alien-themed business plans—both areas of endeavors are more promising than last month’s half-hearted attempt to flash-mob Nevada’s infamous Area 51. Take a tour:

Founded in 1984, the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute is perhaps our planet’s most well-known organized attempt to look for other life forms in the universe. SETI is headquartered in Mountain View, California, and operates, among other projects, the Allen Telescope Array (named for Microsoft founder Paul Allen) in Shasta County. 

If all goes according to plan, the UFO Hotel in Baker, California, will resemble an artist’s rendering of an unidentified flying object. Owner Luis Ramallo says his proposed 31-room hotel will be situated off Interstate 15, the main driving route between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Ramallo aims to stage construction of this space-age Shangri-la near his alien-themed beef jerky roadside store, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. 

The Automated Planet Finder is a robotic telescope invented to search for Earth-like, extrasolar planets from the base of Mount Hamilton, just east of San Jose, California. The APF, part of the University of California Lick Observatory, operates every clear night of the year. Don’t have time to head over to Mount Hamilton? No problem. The view from the Lick Observatory All-Sky Camera updates every 60 seconds. 

If humans ever do manage to locate another habitable planet or communicate with alien life forms, it just might be humans from California who do it. I’m reminded of one of the last lines from my favorite episode of the 1990s sitcom Frasier. Phil Patterson, Seattle political candidate, has lost his bid for election because of his claim that he’d been abducted by space aliens. Dr. Frasier Crane asks Patterson about his future plans. 

“Maybe I’ll run in California,” says Patterson. “A thing like this could actually help me there.”

This article originally appeared in Alta‘s October 17, 2019 newsletter. Earthlings wishing to sign-up for our free weekly blast can do so at the top right of this website. We come in peace (to your in-box) every Thursday.