Mobile telephones 'polluting airwaves'

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The search for extraterrestrial life is under threat from the explosive growth in mobile telephones which are swamping the airwaves with ''electronic pollution'', it is claimed.

Radio astronomers, whose sensitive instruments are designed to detect the weakest electromagnetic signals from deep space, want stricter curbs on mobile phone technology.

Some of the world's most expensive astronomical instruments, such as Britain's Jodrell Bank radio telescope, are having to struggle against the rise in electrical interference. This electronic ''smog'' is set to become far worse with the next generation of mobile phones, which will communicate directly with satellites to make international calls.

James Cohen, a radio astronomer at Jodrell Bank, said the International Telecommunications Union, which regulates mobile phone technology, is reluctant to recognise the problem that scientists face.

The ITU is due to allocate further radio frequencies to mobile phone companies later this year and Dr Cohen believes that an already difficult situation could become much worse if radio astronomers lose out ''to the giants of the telecoms industry''.

His warning is made in the Handbook on Radio Astronomy, published later this month.