Could there be aliens out there?

East Anglian Astrophysical Research Organisation is based at Alconbury Weald. Picture: EAAROEast Anglian Astrophysical Research Organisation is based at Alconbury Weald. Picture: EAARO

If so, a new space observations centre at Alconbury could be the place to find out.

The charity, East Anglian Astrophysical Research Organisation (EAARO), which runs the centre, wants to be the first space organisation in the UK to build an observatory dedicated to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

The charity, founded by Jason Williams in 2011, already had working observatories in Duxford and on Orkney island North Ronaldsay. Now, thanks to the donation of a two petabyte data centre from General Electric in Histon, and a vacant building from developer Urban & Civic, it has the processing power and space to store and sift through the weak radio signals that reach the UK from space.

The idea is one of many for the growing charity whose mission is to inspire interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects through the wonders of space.

The new building has also allowed the charity to throw their doors open to the public for special events. About 25 people went to the most recent event, on October 21, where radio waves were bounced off the super-heated trails of meteors, resulting in a distinctive sound.

The event was made all the more science fiction by the red lights which the team use to see their computer screens more easily. "It's a real experience," said Jason.

The team of three which runs EAARO hope to appeal to all ages, with further plans for the charity including publishing an illustrated children's book about the journey of a meteor from space to the earth's surface. They will then take the book around primary schools as part of an interactive session.

They are also working hard to make their public events as inclusive as possible. They are currently looking for grant funding to enable disabled access to the site, which lies in the corner of Alconbury airfield, an old Cold War base.

As the passage of the earth through cosmic debris is a regular occurrence, the charity is organising an observation of the Leonid meteor shower at the centre on November 17-18, with tickets to be available from the website Eventbrite.