A decade of helping in the hunt for alien life

30 Apr 2009

May 17, 2009 sees the 10-year anniversary of SETI@home, the computational research project to search for intelligent life in the universe, which allows ordinary folk to wade in and help using the spare processing power of their computers.

The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute was founded in 1984 with a multidisciplinary aim of finding life or proof of life in outside solar system.

However, the institute is best known for ‘listening’ for radio transmissions from space that could possibly come from another intelligent form (You’ll remember the dramatised version of this from the Hollywood film Contact, starring Jodie Foster).

The SETI@home project began in 1999 and uses grid computing and people power to sort through the masses of digital data generated as a result of listening to the stars.

With a computer program from the University of Berkeley in the US called BOINC running in the background, people from around the globe can collectively analyse data from the SETI project and contribute to the goal of finding the truth out there.

The huge number of volunteer computers crunching away on this data makes SETi@home the second-fastest supercomputer on earth.

Ireland, of course, plays its part in all of this, and Paddy’s in Space is the largest SETI@home group in the country, with over 500 members.

Since May 1999, over 10 million people around the world have volunteered their spare computer time to the SETI@home project, and around 30,000 Irish people are part of this effort.

By Marie Boran

Pictured: Allen Telescope Array (cc) courtesy of Oneiros1