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Solar flares postpone SETI@home re-observation

– Arecibo, Puerto Rico - After one day of re-observing promising radio sources at the Arecibo radio telescope, the SETI@home project has been bumped from the telescope's observing schedule until next Monday, March 24, so that researchers can observe a rare solar flare.

Dan Werthimer, chief scientist of SETI@home and a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory, said, "It happens about once every two years at Arecibo that they have to bump everyone so they can observe a flare."

The change in plans was caused by the eruption of two solar flares on Monday and Tuesday (March 17 and 18). Similar events in the past have been known to interfere with communications and global positioning satellites.

SETI@home's "Stellar Countdown" got underway on March 18 at Arecibo. During an eight hour session, the SETI@home team observed 52 candidate radio sources and 30 other objects, including nearby stars, galaxies and stars known to possess extrasolar planets. The team wants to re-observe up to 150 of the most interesting radio sources found out of the billions detected since the distributed computing project began to search for extraterrestrial intelligence in May 1999. The team will observe a further 1 1/2 hours today (March 19) and reschedule the remaining 15 hours of observing time on March 24.

SETI@home, based at UC Berkeley, harnesses the computing power of four million volunteers to analyze data from the Arecibo telescope. Designed as an innovative screensaver program, SETI@home parcels out packets of raw data from Arecibo to be processed in the personal computers of volunteers around the world.

The Planetary Society, the founding and principal sponsor of SETI@home, was started in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman to advance the exploration of the solar system and to continue the search for extraterrestrial life. With members in over 125 countries, the society is the largest space interest group in the world.

For a fuller story on the re-observations, check out the Web article at http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2003/03/10_search.shtml.