How to use your PC to find extraterrestrial life using SETI@Home
Posted by mandyf on August 21, 2012
Joining the SETI project is not only fast and easy, it’s free. SETI has long been a favorite program of those with a keen interest in space or the search for intelligent life beyond that which is currently known to man. In the earliest days of SETI, there was not much room for most enthusiasts to do anything to help further the program, but with the advent of the Internet and higher quality technology available to people for personal use than ever before, now SETI has a place for almost anyone to join in and participate.
For those unfamiliar with SETI, SETI is an acronym which stands for “Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.” SETI emplys a scientific approach to the quest for contact with extraterrestrial life forms by using radio telescopes (radio SETI) to scan space for narrow bandwidth signals that are incoming. The reason narrow bandwidth signals are scanned for is because they are not naturally occurring. Therefore, if a narrow bandwidth signal is detected, that would be taken as an indicator that there is something out there which is not only capable of sending transmissions, but is actively transmitting. That in turn would be interpreted as some form of intelligent life.
The problem with this approach is that there are tons of signals bouncing around. Consider for a second that there are known manmade signals from radar, satellites, television, radio, celestial sources, and the equipment that is actively in use to scan, and it is easy to see there is plenty to sift through. There is so much to go through in fact, that even using super computers located at the site of the SETI telescope proved to less than optimal.
It was that realization which prompted David Gedye to think of using internet connected computers as a sort of alternate virtual super computer. In 1999, this became a reality, and SETI@home was launched. By having many small at home computers handle certain portions of the analytic process, SETI is able to separate the “garbage” from the data which is potentially relevant. This is where regular people come in and can join in on the SETI project.
By downloading the SETI analysis package, when your computer is turned on, but not in use, the SETI package can begin analyzing packets of data. You will notice it is doing this because the SETI screensaver will appear on your screen. If the screensaver is on, but you need your computer – no worries! You just start using your computer as you normally would without the slightest hiccup. SETI shuts itself down until you are done and your computer enters its next idle period. For most computers, the SETI@home project needs only 2 hours per week to accomplish a task on your machine – which is somewhat negligible.
What is also nice is that even though running SETI will use some of your CPU, bandwidth and disk space, you can control how much is used and when it used. You can set your computer to only allow SETI to run between certain hours each day. It is fully up to you. Furthermore, just because you have joined the Seti@ home project, that does not mean your IP address or any other personal information is available to anyone else.
To join SETI@home, visit http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/sah_participate.php where you can read the rules and policies as well as obtain information on system specs necessary to join and random information about the history of the program and future goals. You will need around 20MB of free disk space and 64MB of RAM to join. Otherwise, all you have to do is enroll using a valid email address to confirm participation. Once enrolled, the only other contact you will have with SETI is an occasional newsletter – which you can opt out of.