Tuesday, January 5, 2010

SETI@Home - Home Computers Search for Intelligent Life

This is one of the earliest, most popular, and easy-to-join projects around.  The Search for Extra-Terrestrials at Home (SETI@Home) connects individual personal computers together into a virtual "Supercomputer" capable of performing huge mathematical tasks.  In this case, processing radio-wave signals from outer space to identify potential messages from alien life forms.

Based on the idea that breaking up a huge job into many smaller jobs makes the impossible possible, SETI@home collects massive amounts of data and splits it into tiny chunks for home computers to analyze.  This is all done in the background with spare computing power so these work-units never interferes with your own work. Once downloaded these signals are analyzed for tell-tale signs that they are artificial in nature, not man-made, and don't come from the Earth.  We are looking for a strong signal from a single point in the sky, and may repeat on a regular basis.  This identifies potential candidates for alien signals, and while only the first step it is by far the most intensive (and what the program focuses on).  Once candidates are identified they are sent back to the project team to compare against known signals (to rule out false candidates), searched for in the sky again, and examined further to identify their true nature.  So helping scientists with the big computing tasks let's them focus on the other difficult tasks of separating potential signals from real ones.

We will talk much more about this ground-breaking project in the future, but for now we recommend you stop by and try it for yourself.

Getting Involved is Easy:
  1. Visit http://setiathome.ssl.berkely.edu.  Click on "Participate" and then "Download".
  2. Your computer will download the BOINC client.  This is a background program that SETI@Home (and many other projects) run on top of.
  3. Install BOINC and run the program for the first time. One the main view appears, click on "Add Project".  A new window will appear to guide you through the process.
  4. Scroll through the list of available projects (more on these in future posts) and select the bottom one, SETI@Home.  You will now be connected to the project and prompted to create an account for yourself.
  5. Once the account is successfully set up, the SETI@Home program and data to analyze will be automatically managed by your computer.  You don't need to do anything else (unless you want to) except enjoy donating your computer time to a worthy cause.
Good luck, and enjoy!

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