- The University of California, Berkeley's SETI@home project,
which just breezed past its first anniversary with more than
2 million subscribers looking for intelligent signals from
space, is one of five finalists in the science category of
the 2000 Computerworld Smithsonian Awards.
are given each year to visionary projects and people in 10
separate categories, ranging from science and technology to
arts and entertainment. The winner in each category will be
announced June 5 at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.
was launched May 17, 1999. Within 48 hours, some 200,000 people
had downloaded the software to participate in UC Berkeley's
search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). The software
acts like a screen saver, launching when the computer is idle
to analyze a chunk of data in search of intelligent radio
signals from space. Once the analysis is complete, the computer
connects to the internet, returns the analyzed data and retrieves
a new chunk of data to chew on.
past year, users of the SETI@home software have contributed
more than 280,000 years of free computing time. A group at
Sun Microsystems, dubbed SETI@sun, contributed more than 520
years. Sun has been one of SETI@home's major sponsors, donating
the server computers that send out work units to subscribers.
The other major sponsors are the Planetary Society, which
provided early seed money, and the University of California's
Digital Media Innovation Program.
to people around the world, we have built our planet's largest
supercomputer," said project scientist Dan Werthimer.
to have benefited from an obvious public fascination with
everything related to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
(SETI), UFOs and the X-Files," said project director David
and UC Berkeley colleagues operate several ongoing SETI projects,
including the 21-year-old SERENDIP project (Search for Extraterrestrial
Radio Emissions from Nearby Developed Intelligent Populations),
whose newest instrument, SERENDIP IV, provides the data for
SETI@home. The project was designed in part as an experiment
in "distributed computing" - a way of breaking down a problem
requiring lots of computation into small chunks that can be
done by many small computers distributed anywhere in the world.
The SETI@home project is the first distributed computing project
to allow the general public the opportunity to participate
in important research.
the peak signals plucked from the data have all been terrestrial
radio pollution rather than extraterrestrial messages. The
search has only begun, though.
now, Earthlings are just getting in the game," Werthimer said.
"In the past 20 years we have made great progress, from being
able to scan 100 radio bands at once to scanning 100 million.
If we can improve the technology in the next 20 years by a
factor of a million or a billion, then we'll have a good chance
of detecting another civilization's radio signals, if they're
data comes in on more and more frequencies, distributed computing
allows the team to keep pace. Computers will continue to get
faster, users will upgrade, and SETI@home gets faster analysis
without having to invest in a supercomputer.
news is, we're limited by computing power, and that's always
getting better," Werthimer said.
the search, Werthimer also is exploring the option of collecting
data from a radio telescope in the southern hemisphere. This
would complement the northern sky data coming from the Arecibo
radio telescope in Puerto Rico.
Anderson said the current phase of the project is scheduled
to wind down in a year's time, primarily because the Arecibo
telescope will have scanned the same area of the sky three
to four times, which is sufficient for now. Once that data
has been analyzed for pulsed, radar-like signals as well as
continuous beacons, little more information can be squeezed
Anderson and Werthimer can raise additional money - SETI@home
operation now costs about $400,000 per year - they hope to
extend the project indefinitely with data from improved instruments
or other areas of the sky.
that there are lots of users who are desperate to continue
looking for intelligent life in the universe," Anderson said.
was launched three years ago with the Planetary Society, in
cooperation with Paramount Pictures, providing $100,000 for
development of the publicly available software. Sun Microsystems
also donated computing equipment, and the University of California
provided matching funds of $180,000 from its Digital Media
Innovation Program. Other sponsors include Fuji Film Computer
Products, Quantum Corp., Informix and The SETI Institute.
Web site is http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/.