NET NEWS: … and a Search for Alien Life

Science  30 Oct 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5390, pp. 839b
DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5390.839b

A new grassroots search for E.T. is about to begin. The project, SETI{at}home, will harness the spare cycles of personal computers (PCs) via the Internet to parse radio signals for signs of intelligence beyond Earth.

SETI{at}home, an offshoot of SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), will give the public a screen-saver that will collect and analyze small chunks of data from Serendip IV, a piggyback instrument on the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico (Science, 9 August 1996, p. 743). The PCs together will function as a supercomputer to search for signs of intelligent life in “much weaker signals and a variety of patterns that we can't survey now” with other SETI computers, says University of California, Berkeley, astronomer Dan Werthimer, chief scientist for SETI{at}home. Although 100,000 volunteers have already signed up since the project was announced in 1996, organizers only this year rounded up enough support to get started: Sun Microsystems donated computers, and $50,000 each came from the nonprofit The Planetary Society and from Paramount Pictures, which hopes the search will boost its new flick, Star Trek: Insurrection, opening in December.

Jonathan Frakes, the movie's director and co-star, will appear on CNN in late November and switch on the SETI{at}home data recorder; next April, everyone will get the software. (Sign up at setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu.) But for the project to succeed, it needs to run 2 years. “We need more money,” Werthimer says.

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