Aerospace engineers at Palo Alto firm Stellar Solution Inc. have spent the past 20 years trying to develop an early warning system for earthquakes. But according to a story published in the Los Angeles Times, the company is now pulling the plug on the project — $30 million later.

The project, QuakeFinder.com, was supposed to predict oncoming quakes by detecting electromagnetic precursors (otherwise known as "earthquake lights") using sensors deployed along the California coast. However, the engineers were never able to accurately predict a seismic hazard. The sensors were too sensitive to separate man-made noise from earthquake pulses, and they weren't even able to pick up warning signs of the magnitude 6 South Napa earthquake of 2014.

But until the budget cuts that halted the project, these engineers kept searching for a breakthrough, despite the derision for the field of earthquake prediction often found in the scientific community.

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The QuakeFinder project initially held a lot of promise — NASA and Elon Musk even helped fund it. Some loyal supporters, including John Derr, a former USGS geophysicist, still insist on the project's enduring importance.

“Precursors could be used to develop an earthquake warning system,” Derr told the LA Times. “If that isn’t important, I’ll eat my hat!”

Read the full LA Times story here.

Madeline Wells is an SFGATE associate digital reporter. Email: madeline.wells@sfgate.com | Twitter: @madwells22