500-fold increase in space communications leads SETI@home to call for help

The longest-running search for radio signals from alien civilizations is receiving 500 times more data from an upgraded telescope and better frequency coverage than project planners anticipated, meaning the SETI@home project is in dire need of more desktop computers to help crunch the data.

New, more sensitive receivers on the world’s largest radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, and better frequency coverage are generating 500 times more data for the project than before, project leaders said in a release. SETI@home software has been upgraded to deal with this new data as the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) enters a new era and offers a new opportunity for those who want to help find other civilizations in the universe.

“The next generation SETI@home is 500 times more powerful then anything anyone has done before,” said project chief scientist Dan Werthimer in a release. “That means we are 500 times more likely to find ET than with the original SETI@home.”

The 1,000-foot diameter Arecibo dish, which fills a valley in Puerto Rico, is part of the operated by Cornell University with funds from the National Science Foundation. Since 1992, Werthimer and his team have piggybacked on radio astronomy observations at Arecibo to record signals from space and analyze them for patterns that could indicate they were transmitted by an intelligent civilization.

 What triggered the new flow of data was the addition of seven new receivers at Arecibo, which now let the telescope record radio signals from seven regions of the sky simultaneously instead of just one. With greater sensitivity and the ability to detect the polarization of the radio signals, plus 40 times more frequency coverage, Arecibo is set to survey the sky for new radio sources.Since SETI@home was launched, other distributed computing projects have arisen such as folding@home to predict the three-dimensional tangle of a protein.

There are 42 projects and most are now on a platform called BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC), which was developed by SETI@home so that the various projects could share resources.

The University of Illinois is developing the project called Cosmology@Home, which will use part of your computer’s unused processing power, disk space and network bandwidth to become part of a giant computing engine capable of calculating predictions of millions of theoretical space models on the beginnings of the galaxies and more, the group said in a release.

The predictions are then compared with actual data, including fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background, large-scale distributions of galaxies, and the acceleration of the universe and other heady stuff.

Since SETI@home launched eight years ago, the project based at the University of California, Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory has signed up more than 5 million interested volunteers and boasts the largest community of dedicated users of any Internet computing project: 170,000 users on 320,000 computers.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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