'Alien hunting' project completes tenth anniversary

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Washington, May 20 (ANI): SETI@home, the world's largest and longest-running volunteer computing project, which enables people to search for aliens from their personal computers at home, is celebrating its tenth anniversary this month.

The project already has 140,000 participants and 235,000 computers powering the search for intelligent signals from space.

No extraterrestrials have been found yet.

But, the project will hold a day-long symposium at the University of California, Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory on May 21 to celebrate the birthday and discuss the future of a project that still excites the public and has spurred the development of dozens of similar volunteer distributed computing projects.

Launched on May 17, 1999, SETI@home uses home computers to sift through radio data acquired from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico in search of patterns that might indicate an intelligent source.

The at-home Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) quickly attracted a worldwide following.

Three months after its debut, 1 million people had signed up in 223 countries, running the screensaver software on home and work computers and in grade school classrooms, universities and even government offices.

Over the past decade, more than 5 million people have signed up, and today, despite more than 80 competing volunteer computing projects, SETI@home still has the largest core of dedicated users.

A big draw is being able to participate in a search that conceivably could detect life elsewhere in the universe - and to get credit for helping find ETs.

"The number of members has ebbed and flowed, but we have more computing power than ever, thanks to the steadily increasing power of computer processors," said project director David Anderson.

The challenge, according to chief scientist Dan Werthimer, is scanning all frequencies, all areas of the sky, and all possible signal patterns for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.

During its 10 years of operation, SETI@home has steadily improved the capture of radio signals from the Arecibo radio telescope and subsequent signal analyses.

Today, more frequencies are covered and more points in the sky are scanned simultaneously, and, as of March, the SETI@home software also searches for one-time pulses in addition to repeating signals.

Boosting even more the number-crunching power of volunteer computers, SETI@home now uses not only CPUs (central processing units), but also the graphics processing units (GPUs) found in newer PCs.

"GPUs are much faster than CPUs at this point," Anderson said.

A new version of SETI@home, released five months ago, automatically uses GPUs and typically runs about 10 times faster than the CPU version. (ANI)

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