Sunday, April 18, 2010

Searching for Aliens


Wow, it has been a LONNNG time since I have posted on my blog. I have been busy with many distractions, including my taxes (see the photo above). I have also been reading Carl Sagan's book The Varieties of Scientific Experience. Coincidentally, both of these distractions involved aliens.

If you are familiar with Carl Sagan, you know he was passionate about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). This book recommends participating in the SETI@home project, which uses the spare processing power of over 5 million personal computers around the world. The project is coordinated by UC Berkeley.

Data from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico are downloaded to your computer, in chunks of about 107 seconds of observation at a time. Your computer then performs over 2 trillion mathematical operations on this 107 seconds of data to filter out signals that might be evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence. The findings get reported to UC Berkeley, and they send you more data to analyze. If your computer is the one that finds ET, you get named as a co-discoverer.

Who wouldn't jump at that opportunity for fame and fortune? Of course I signed up. And if the KindOfCurious laptop is the one that finds ET, my readers will be the first to know. No need to endlessly monitor the "mainstream" news channels for word of mankind's first contact with another world. Just keep reading KindOfCurious!

If you too would like to donate your spare computing power to the search for extraterrestrials, check out the SETI at Home website.

The software that allows you to download SETI@home also lets you participate in other "distributed computing" projects, from deciphering a Nazi message intercepted during WWII and still unbroken, to helping to cure cancer. I also signed up for a project to test climate change prediction models, and one that supports various (mostly medical) research. I'll post more about those in the future.

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