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Open-sourcing SETI

The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence got a boost this week with the release of the first open source code from setiQuest.

The setiQuest project has released its first open source code in an effort to have anyone interested help search for intelligent life out there.

The source code for Open SonATA is available on GIT Hub now and covers three programs:

Waterfall Display:

The waterfall display shows the power for each bin in a subchannel. The power values are reported every .75 seconds. The brighter the dot, the stronger the power.

Baseline Display:

The baseline display shows the average power in each subchannel over channel bandwidth. The baseline is averaged over time and is reported every 15 or so seconds.

SonATA InfoDisplay:

The sonataInfoDisplay program uses a curses display window to present the status of the various system components such as the channelizers, dx's, archivers, etc.

Basically, the three programs help visualize the radio waves captured by the ATA - the Allen Telescope Array, an array of 42 — eventually, that will be 350 — small dishes in northern California.

Given the financial constraints on NASA and other government programs, it makes a lot of sense to open-source the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. The more ears on the array, the more likely it is that if there is some signal, it will be caught. The SETI director explained there's a very small number of people involved in the process, in an article in The Space Review:

The challenge with increasingly complex SETI search techniques is that the resources and expertise of the SETI community is fairly limited. “The number of people in the world actively involved in SETI could fit into a phone booth,” said Jill Tarter, director of the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute.

Some might wonder how this differs greatly from 1999's SETI@home project, which some might call the older cousin to setiQuest. Simply, in the former project, your computer's resources are being used to help process data.

In setiQuest your brain's resources are being used. That seems to be a better deal for everyone involved - SETI, searchers and aliens alike.

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