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"Science fiction has gotten more accurate as we've gotten closer to the present, because science fiction stories have not only attracted, but also generated current scientists."
- Larry Niven

Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic  
  A device which senses passing spacecraft; essential tool of interstellar hitchhikers  

You really cannot hitchhike (in the interstellar sense) without one of these. It's kind of like having your thumb out on an on-ramp by the interstate highway.

Nestling quietly on top of the towel in Ford Prefect's satchel, the Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic began to wink more quickly. Miles above the surface of the planet the huge yellow somethings began to fan out. At Jodrell Bank, someone decided it was time for a nice relaxing cup of tea.
From The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.
Published by Harmony Books in 1979
Additional resources -

Note also that Ford Prefect, a hitchhiker par excellence, was of course in possession of his towel.

Jodrell Bank is a wonderful place; they also have a very nice website - see Jodrell Bank Live!, which shows the current state of all of their major instruments.

You're wondering whether or not England makes a good place for observing the stars? You might prefer a nice desert mountaintop? You see, they do radio astronomy there; the 218ft parabolic reflecting aerial built in 1947 was the largest radio telescope in the world of its time. Among the great discoveries made with this instrument was the detection of radio noise from the Great Nebula in Andromeda. This was the first known extragalactic radio source. And they've been making discoveries ever since.

So, it is perfectly reasonable that they should be the first to (not) realize that Earth was about to be destroyed by space aliens.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
  More Ideas and Technology by Douglas Adams
  Tech news articles related to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
  Tech news articles related to works by Douglas Adams

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