21st Century : Science : SETI@home
Are we alone in the Universe? This is the question which has baffled and fascinated mankind for centuries. One only has to look at the plethora of popular Science Fiction TV shows and films to see that we are fascinated by the idea of other intelligent life "out there".We still have no conclusive proof that we are, or are not alone, for that matter. Discounting the thousands of unsubstantiated UFO reports, as far as we know, E.T. has not dropped in, and Mr Spock has not popped by to see if we are living long and prospering.
But now, mankind has the technology to search the heavens, if on a somewhat limited basis; but then, there is rather a lot of ground to cover. This search has a name: SETI, or the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, which is a scientific effort aiming to determine if there is intelligent life out in the universe. There are many methods that SETI scientific teams use to search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Many of these search billions of radio frequencies that flood the universe, looking for another civilization that might be transmitting a radio signal. Other SETI teams search by looking for signals in pulses of light emanating from the stars.
And now anyone with a humble desktop computer can take part in the search, thanks to a project called "SETI@home". This project which is based in UC Berkeley in the USA uses the world's largest single-dish radio telescope (above) at Arecibo in Puerto Rico to search for any possible radio signal from another world. The telescope is 305 m (1000 feet) in diameter, 167 feet deep, and covers an area of about twenty acres. But there is so much data recorded by the telescope; how possibly to analyse it all? The answer; break it up in to small chunks and distribute it to as many computers as possible...
The UC Berkeley SETI team has discovered that there are already thousands of computers that might be available for use. Most of these computers sit around most of the time with screensavers accomplishing absolutely nothing and wasting electricity to boot. This is where SETI@home (and you!) come into the picture. The SETI@home project hopes to convince you to allow them to borrow your computer when you aren't using it and to help them "...search out new life and new civilizations." This is accomplished with a screen saver (pictured below) that can go get a chunk of data from the SETI team over the internet, analyze that data, and then report the results back to them. When you need your computer back, the screen saver instantly gets out of the way and only continues it's analysis when you are finished with your work.
If you should be fortunate to be the first to discover a signal from another world, then no doubt instant fame and possibly fortune will follow.
No conclusively extraterrestrial signals have yet been discovered, but who knows, it could be you! Be sure to visit the SETI@home website to download the screensaver and for any other related info.
The SETI Institute Online
Arecibo Radio Telescope website