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The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence

The first ever worldwide event that the whole of humankind could take part in, by using their own personal computers. There are no bars, no impediments. The Human Race looking for other beings in outer space. Sounds fantastic? Well every participant has the same goal in mind, to find E.T.1

Basically, the seti@home project is simple. The data is collected by Berkeley Edu. from the radio telescopes at Puerto Rico. This data is divided into 90 second blocks of raw data called units, and these units are sent out to participants' personal computers, for them to run on their screensavers, when their machines are not in use. Much more worthwhile than seeing 'Flying Windows'...

These units can be completed2 in anything from 2 hours to over 100 hours, dependant upon the speed of the computer and also other programmes running at the same time can affect the unit duration.

Improving seti processing times and seti@home are two useful entries containing tips on how to shorten your crunch times.

The progress of the unit can be watched; there is also a programme called 'Seti sky watch' which can be downloaded and it will show you the area of the sky that your current unit came from, and also log your previous units.

Once a unit is completed, your green icon will flash red, and a box will appear requesting you to 'connect now' to send your unit back. Your 'stats' are updated straight away and as soon as your unit has been sent, your new one starts downloading automatically. It really is very simple, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to participate in the search.

'5 minute units'

One intriguing quirk is the mysterious '5 minute unit', that is, the unit downloads, and before you have had chance to log your new unit (if indeed you are recording each one manually; this is not necessary), the icon flashes red and asks you to send it off. This is very much a pleasant surprise, as it lowers your statistics and also gives you something to talk about at your local seti group. The reason for these mysterious short units is probably interference from either the Earth or a satellite.

These are not myths, this researcher has received one, it lasted approx. 6 and a half minutes. Another researcher reports a unit lasting 47 seconds.

Other Methods

There are other methods by which to 'crunch' your units too, such as the Seti_Gate cache system, whereby you can download many units and your 'client' ie a dos client, also available from seti@home, just sits and crunches away until it runs out of units. A good way to be able to keep crunching if you don't mind leaving your PC on all the time (actually healthier for the poor box rather than switching on and off all the time and causing horrendous power surges through the delicate stuff inside). You can then upload all your results at one go. It also allows you to keep stat tabs on your friends by adding their email addy. When you upload your results, it automatically updates your (and any friends you have listed) stats. There are many other add ons to help you keep the best eye on how your units are doing.


Stats can be checked here, significant finds, large gaussians and spikes, etc. Merchandise may also be purchased from the site, e.g. coffee mugs, t-shirts, baseball caps.

Frank Drake

Frank Drake is the current President of the Seti Institute. He devised an equation, now known as The Drake Equation for approximating how many possible life-bearing planets and civilizations there may be in the Universe.

Who's Out There?

The Voyager spacecraft, which are now out of our solar system on their way to the far-reaches of the known Universe, carry with them a gold-plated record, should any alien civilization discover these, read about what they will find here: Voyager Record

Quotes from noted seti supporters:
Carl Sagan:

'The discovery of other civilizations might abate much of the need for conflict here on Earth'
'I think Kurzweil's argument is flawed, and here's why.
He fails to take into account the relative timescales and rates involved in the evolution of life. Consider these timescales:
The Universe has been around for something like 4.5 billion years. The Earth has been around for about 4 billion. Life's been on the Earth for about 3.5 billion years. Mankind has been here for about 5 million. We've been able to broadcast electronic information into space for about 100 years.
Now, it happens that our planet is comparatively old in the Galaxy - indeed in the Universe. We see everything moving away from us fairly uniformly in all directions (perhaps we smell, or something). That last 100 years, in which we've been transmitting ourselves across the Galaxy, is a tiny, tiny proportion of the amount of time that life's been on this planet.
Now, imagine another civilisation in another part of the Galaxy that's had their planet exactly as long as ours. Let's say they've also had life on that planet as long as we have, and also, if you like, that they've had human-like beings making their way steadily up the evolutionary ladder until they're ready to have electronics and dishes and suchlike. We'll assume they evolve as fast as we did as well - why not.
Let's say their planet is 20,000 light-years away - still well within our Galaxy. They could have become electronicised (i.e. able to beam messages into space) 19,000 years ago, and their emissions will only just be reaching us. There could, in fact, be thousands of civilisations that evolved quicker than us and have been at it for 100,000 years, but their messages might only just be reaching us from the other side of the Galaxy. Conversely, there might be a civilisation next door to us that just happens to be 1,000 years behind us in its evolution - it's a tiny amount of time compared to the age of planets and life on them. When you consider that some civilisations on Earth have been separated from others technologically speaking by at least 1500 years (take Mayans and Spanish in the year 1600 as an example) - it's much more likely that completely separated planets will have vastly differing states of evolution.
It's all perfectly possible, and is a perfectly good theory as to why we've not heard anything from them yet. FBI/CIA cover-ups aside.'

Seti entries on h2g2

  • Seti Researchers

  • Meet the Researchers for seti@home

  • Seti directory

  • Satire

    There are numerous sites (e.g. seti_news and yeti_news) on the internet which 'send up' the seti project. Seti@home participants should not take the jibes personally, but laugh along with the perpetrators, who really have nothing better to do with their time, and if they see the desired effect they wanted is not happening then they will get bored and go off and do something worthwhile. Like search for extra-intelligence maybe.

    Here is one on h2g2: STI and SETI

    A message from aliens?

    In 1977, a signal was registered by seti and became known as the 'WOW' signal.

    Crop circles now appear to have seti in mind, with a 'reply' to Frank Drake's original message, the reply borrowed from the film and book Contact by Carl Sagan.
    Message from E.T?
    1The loveable alien made famous by the film of the same name2'crunched' is the term that has been coined

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