Extraterrestrial Intelligence

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Have a computer and an interest in finding evidence of alien life? That's all you need to help science in their search for extraterrestrial life (SETI).

Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute, a private, not-for-profit organization based out of the University of California, Berkeley, is dedicated to exploring, understanding and explaining the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe. In average-Joe-speak, that means that they are looking of extraterrestrial life, ET.

* The SETI Institute Wants You *

The Institute has three centersCenter for SETI Research, the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe and the Center for Education and Public Outreachand 150 employees, including its scientists, educators and support staff. Sounds like a brainy, high tech bunch. Well, you'd never guess who they are looking to recruit nextyou! Actually, what they want is access to your home computer to help in their search, because looking for ET apparently requires a lot of number crunching. This need for computer power is what inspired the launch of SETI@home.

* What Is SETI@home? *

SETI@home is uses computers connected to the internet to help the Institute search for extraterrestrial intelligence. You participate by downloading and running a free program, Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) software. This program runs in the background on individual computers, using the idle power to analyze a portion of SETIs vast amount of radio telescope data.

* How Does SETI Search for Extraterrestrial Life? *

SETI uses radio telescopes which listen for electromagnetic transmission (radio signals) from space. Radio signals do not occur naturally. They must have a source. So it is assumed that if a radio signal were encountered that was not of human origin, this would be evidence of extraterrestrial technology.

The signals that radio telescopes can pick up are essentially just noise; man-made signals from TV stations, radar, satellites, potentially with ET signals mixed in. All this noise picked up by the radio telescope needs to be analyzed digitally to find that possible alien needle in the haystack. The SETI Institute has big computers to do data analysis, but having more computing power enables SETI to search greater frequency ranges and in more detail. So SETI@home was launched in May 1999.

* How Many Volunteers Are Using SETI@home? *

Since its inception, the SETI@home project has recruited more than 180,000 participants who are volunteering over 290,000 computers. This combined effort gives SETI@home computational power greater than that of the fourth fastest computer in the world.

* Sources *

Information for this article was obtained from the SETI@home main page, SETI Institute and SETI at Berkeley, as well as from the SETI Wikipedia entry.

More about this author: Tami Port MS

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