|SETI@home is a scientific experiment that will harness the power of hundreds of thousands of Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). You can participate by running a screensaver 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. The Planetary Society, Paramount Pictures, Sun Microsystems, Fuji Film Computer Products, Informix, and Engineering Design Team, Inc.. SETI@home is also supported by by private donations. It is based at the University of California at Berkeley. Learn about other UC Berkeley SETI projects.|
The SETI@home program is a special kind of screensaver. Like other screensavers it starts up when you leave your computer unattended, and it shuts down as soon as you return to work. What it does in the interim is unique. While you are getting coffee, or having lunch or sleeping, your computer will be helping the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence by analyzing data specially captured by the world's largest radio telescope.
SETI@home will be accompanied by a Web site showing the current status of the search, providing various educational material and links on SETI, astrobiology, and astronomy, and hosting the download of the client software.
Current SETI research consists primarily of radio astronomers searching for narrow-bandwidth radio signals (radio waves are able to penetrate interstellar dust clouds, and narrow-bandwidth signals are not found in nature). There are a handful of such projects. Some are focusing on particular nearby stars, others are scanning star-dense parts of the sky. The SETI Institute 's Project Phoenix is the best known of these projects.
All existing SETI projects use custom signal processing hardware, listening to the real-time telescope output on millions of frequency channels simultaneously. This analysis, though impressive, only skims the surface of what is possible. Because real-time searches can only check a small number of bandwidths, frequency drift rates and pulse periodicities, it makes sense to consider a new kind of search -- one that analyses a smaller part of the frequency spectrum in a much more thorough way. This is the mission of SETI@home.
The Science Behind SETI@home
SETI@home is real science. The data is from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world. By the time 50,000 PCs are involved, the scope of the search will rival all current SETI projects. SETI@home may indeed detect a signal that would otherwise be missed.
The project has three major components:
Data collection. SETI@home is working closely with SERENDIP, a SETI project based at UC Berkeley, which has continuous access to the Arecibo radio telescope. We have developed a computer system that will extract a limited frequency band of their signal, sample it, and write it in real time to a digital tape. These tapes will be mailed to a file server in the U.S.
Data analysis. We have developed a program that searches for strong signals at 4,000,000 different combinations of frequency, bandwidth, and chirp (the drift in frequency with time) illustrated here. The diversity and sensitivity of this analysis exceeds anything that can be done in real time.
Distributed computation. We have developed server-based software that divides the radio telescope data into chunks, distributes these chunks to clients, and collects the results. It also manages the distribution of architecture-specific versions of the analysis code, and takes care of various security concerns.
A data-flow diagram illustrates the entire process.
A history and future schedule of SETI@home:
1996: David Gedye conceived the idea for SETI@home and formed the initial project team. A scientific plan was developed that received widespread academic support at the 5th International Conference in Bioastronomy in July 1996.
1997: The signal analysis code and prototypes of the client and server software were developed.
1998: Most of this year has been devoted to fundraising. In 9/98 we began working on the data recording system and on the final version of the client software. In 11/98 we plan to begin recording data and to begin testing the client software.
1999: From 1/99 through 3/99 we will test and debug the client software, develop the final version of the server software, and prepare the web site for launch. The launch is scheduled for 4/99.
2000-2001: To survey as much of the sky as possible, the experiment will run for two years. The web site will be updated regularly with progress reports, and explanations of the results found so far.
The members of the SETI@home team are:
Dr. David P. Anderson, Project Director. David is Chief Technology Officer at JAMtv Corp. A former member of the Computer Science faculty at UC Berkeley, he has authored 65 research papers in operating systems, distributed computing, and computer graphics.
Dan Werthimer, Chief Scientist. Dan is Principal Investigator of the SERENDIP Project at UC Berkeley. He has been actively involved in SETI observations for 20 years, publishing over 35 papers and books on the subject. Dan is the designer of the SERENDIP and SETI@Home data collection hardware.
Jeff Cobb, Scientific Programmer.
Eric Korpela, Research Astronomer.
Kyle Granger, UI/Graphics Programmer.
Matt Lebofsky, Scientific Programmer.
David Gedye. David founded the SETI@home project, and acted as its first Director from 1995 to 1997. David is Engineering Director for the APEX Online Education project.
Dr. Woodruff T. Sullivan III. Woody is a Professor of Astronomy at the University of Washington, and has been an active member of the academic SETI community for more than 20 years.
Dr. Frank Drake, President, SETI Institute.
Dr. Jill Tarter, Director, Project Phoenix.
Tom Pierson, Executive Director, SETI Institute.
Dr. Kent Cullers, Project Phoenix Scientist.
Dr. John Dreher, Project Phoenix Scientist.
Greg Klerkx, SETI Institute.
October 7 1998. We have received some funding commitments (announcements forthcoming). We have begun development of the data recorder and the data-handling software, and are continuing development of the client software.
July 30 1998. Several dozen volunteer programmers have contributed to the development of the client program, and volunteers from around the world have translated the web page into several languages. Engineering Design Team Inc. (EDT) has donated analog-to-digital interfaces for the data collection system.
We continue to seek the funding that we need to complete the science-only version of the system. We have some good possibilities, but nothing definite so far. Because of this, the schedule for the science-only version has slipped at least a couple of months.
June 10 1998. The UC Berkeley SETI program received the Smithsonian Institute medal for first place in 1998 science and technology innovation. More....
June 1998. Sun Microsystems has agreed to make a donation of computer hardware to SETI@home. This donation is of major importance, as the computers will form the backbone of our data recording and distribution systems.
May 1998. The Center for Electronic Art in San Francisco is running a workshop to design an enhanced Web site and other graphical elements for SETI@home.
March 1998. The Planetary Society has offered its support to the project as a co-sponsor, and will be assisting us in recruiting other sponsors.
September 1997. More than 35,000 people have joined the SETI@home mailing list, many after seeing Dan Werthimer discuss the project on the Discovery Channel. Also during September -- the first magnetic tape of test data from Arecibo was returned to Berkeley. This will be used to test the analysis algorithms, and get an initial sense of the terrestrial interference characteristics.
August 1997. Dan Werthimer was interviewed on NPR's All Things Considered. Other stories this month included one by PC World. The SETI@home mailing list grew to 10,000 people. Senior members of the SETI Institute accepted invitations to sit on our advisory board.
June 1997. The SETI@home web site was established, and David Gedye was interviewed by the New York Times.
Sponsors and Acknowledgements
If you'd like to become one of the project's Founding Supporters, please click here. Donations are fully tax deductible.
The SETI@home project is seeking promotional partners and corporate sponsors. If you represent an organization with the resources and motivation to help us make SETI@home a reality, please send email .
Sponsors and technology partners of SETI@home include:
|The Planetary Society
Design Team, Inc.
|The Friends of SETI@home
(people like you) !
The client analysis code was designed by Dan Werthimer, Mike Lampton, Charles Donnelly and Jeff Cobb, and was implemented by Jeff Cobb. Other contributing programmers include David Anderson, James F. Causey, Ragnar Hojland Espinosa, Kelly French, Kyle Granger, Eric Korpela, Matt Lebofsky, Michael Pfeiffer, Brian Pike, Stein M. Sandbech, Ted Wright, and Steffen Zahn.
Many thanks to Craig Kassnoff, who participated in the project's formative
discussions and made key introductions. Thanks also to Starwave, who sponsored
the scientific feasibility study. Ralph Derrickson has supported the project
from its inception, and given much needed business advice.