SETI@Home project ends; no E.T., but the technology continues

Along with the Howard Stern Show, another radio endeavor involving alien life forms is going off the air this week; SETI@Home, a grid supercomputer project for detecting signs of extra terrestrial life from deep space, officially ended Dec. 15. 

“We'll be shutting down the "SETI@home Classic" project on December 15,” read an e-mail sent by SETI@Home administrators at the University of California at Berkeley, where the project started in 1999. “The workunit totals of users and teams will be frozen at that point, and the final totals will be available on the Web.”

The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence at Home (SETI@Home) project harness idle CPU cycles from millions of Internet-connected PCs across the globe in order to analyze data collected from massive radio telescopes. Running in place of a screensaver, the SETI@Home software, when downloaded on a PC, collected raw data from a centralized SETI@Home server bank and searched for patterns that might signal intelligent life — possible E.T., TV shows, radio communications or other signals.

Although the program ran as a screensaver the collective computing power was enormous; 2 million years of accumulated CPU time, and over 50TB of data, or “workunits” parsed. Over 5 million users have downloaded the software, according to the project organizers.

The project also became a kind of competition for PC hobbiests known as “overclockers” who tweak their systems to run as fast as possible, and use SETI@Home workunits to measure system performance and claim bragging rights.

But like the Stern show, SETI@Home will live on in another form. The project is being moved to the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC), an open-source grid project using the same principals as the original project. BOINC will continue the search for E.T. radio signals, but a new client also allows users to devote spare CPU power for other research projects, such as climate change, astronomy and curing human diseases.

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