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Feature Articles: SETI at Home

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SETI at Home

You may recently have heard about a project, called SETI@home, to use thousands of Internet-connected PCs to help in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

This is not part of the research program of the SETI Institute, but uses data collected with the Arecibo Radio Telescope, in Puerto Rico, as part of Project SERENDIP. The SETI Institute is a major supporter of the SERENDIP search.

The idea behind SETI@home is to take advantage of the unused processing cycles of personal computers. The way this would work is as follows: an interested computer owner will download free software from SETI@home.

Then, when their computer is idle (for example, when you leave your home office to go out for a burger), this software will download a 300 kilobyte chunk of SERENDIP data for analysis.

The results of this analysis are ultimately sent back to the SERENDIP team, combined with the crunched data from the many thousands of other SETI@home participants, and used to help in the search for extraterrestrial signals.

The limitations of this system are that only a 2.5 MHz piece of the observed spectrum will be analyzed by SETI@home, and of course the data processing does not occur "real time" so that interesting signals must be followed up at a later date.


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The tremendous advantage of this scheme is that it permits looking for a variety of signal types that the current SERENDIP processing cannot yet uncover, and many thousands of interested folks will become active participants in SETI. The software also allows users to view the downloaded data on their screens.

SETI@home software is now available. You can download the screen saver program from the official homepage of SETI@home.

Check out their website at

SETI@home is not a project of the SETI Institute.

SETI Institute - 2035 Landings Drive - Mountain View, CA 94043 (650) 961-6633

Dan Werthimer, Project SERENDIP

May 27, 1999

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