by Robert Sanders
Berkeley researchers have begun a new era in their ongoing search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
They have installed a new search instrument, some 40 times more powerful than their previous machine, at the newly upgraded Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico-the world's largest radio telescope.
The new machine, dubbed SERENDIP IV, is the fourth-generation machine in their 20-year-long program.
"We've been searching the sky for signs of extraterrestrials with continuously increasing capability," said Stuart Bowyer, professor in the graduate school and principal investigator of the SERENDIP program, a project he began some 20 years ago. "So far-nothing. But we're not giving up."
Dan Werthimer, codirector and principal designer of the SERENDIP IV machine, points out that "the machine has the equivalent power of 200 of the world's largest supercomputers working together on this task."
The Arecibo telescope (pictured at left [for photograph please see print version]) has just completed a $25 million upgrade with funds provided by the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. This upgrade will substantially increase the telescope's capabilities for research in radio astronomy.
Mike Davis, project scientist for the Arecibo upgrade project and a SERENDIP co-investigator, says the upgrade will significantly enhance the search effort.
SERENDIP stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Radio Emissions from Nearby Developed Intelligent Populations.
Jeff Cobb, the Berkeley researcher in charge of dealing with the huge amount of data produced by the SERENDIP IV machine, has developed extensive computer programs to sort through these data to identify promising candidate signals among the false alarms produced by human activities.