The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI)

SETI@home title image

SETI@home screensaver imageI have recently started participating in the SETI@home project which utilises home computers spare time to process data collected from the Arecibo and Parks radio telescopes. SETI@home functions as a screen saver on your machine and works in the background when your computer is idle. As soon as you start using the machine the SETI@home program suspends and waits for the next idle time which is determined by your screen save settings.

SETI@home is a scientific experiment that harnesses the power of hundreds of thousands of Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). You can participate by running a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data. There's a small but captivating possibility that your computer will detect the faint murmur of a civilization beyond Earth.

SETI@home downloads work units (~350K chunks of data) from the main server at Berkeley University in Calafornia when you are connected to the internet (retrieving Email etc.). It then processes that work unit until it has completed it's analysis (about 1 week for my machine) then the next time your internet link is active it uploads the results back to Berkeley and receives the next work unit. In this manner more than 1.14 million computers around the world are parallel processing the data received through the SETI program. This means that in every 24 hours, 834 years of CPU time is spent crunching the data from the SETI@home program. Australia has approximately 25,000 users on the program and is currently the 7th top country contributing results to the search.

So Just what is being analysed. The SETI data is being collected around the neutral Hydrogen line at 1420.957 MHz. The received data is being analysed for a coherent modulation within the background noise. The analysis is done using fast fourier transforms on a 9765.62 Hz wide 107 second sample of the spectrum using 15 frequency resolutions from 1200 Hz to 0.075 Hz. Over time it is hoped that the SETI program will analyse samples from all areas within the celestial sphere allowing us a chance to detect any transmission which might be directed toward us. The neutral Hydrogen line is seen as a universal constant within the universe, and since EM waves at this frequency propogate well through space and suffer the least natrual interference it is thought probable that any other intelligence trying to communicate might use this area of the EM spectrum.

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