SETI celebrates ten years of not finding aliens

Berkeley, CA – The SETI@home project, which has involved thousands of people around the world in a search for evidence of intelligent extra-terrestrial life marks its 10th anniversary this week.

The project, based at the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, records and analyzes data from the world’s largest radio telescope, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The collected computing power of hundreds of thousands of volunteer PCs is used to search this data for narrow-band signals and other types of signals of alien origin.

Development of the project began in 1998, with initial funding from The Planetary Society and Paramount Pictures. It was publicly launched on May 17, 1999, and the number of volunteers quickly grew to about one million.

Because of the presence of noise and man-made radio interference, SETI@home waits until it hears a signal several times from the same spot on the sky. It takes years of observing to cover the sky the required number of times.

In 2004 SETI@home collected its results to date, identified the best signal ‘candidates’, and used the Arecibo telescope to recheck each of the promising sky locations. No extra-terrestrial signals were found.

Undaunted, SETI@home continues the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life, with hundreds of thousands of volunteers battling it out to process more data than anyone else.

The tenth anniversary of the project will be marked by a conference to be held on 21 May 2009 at the UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory. The presentations will be streamed live on the web.

Those of an unkind disposition have pointed out that if you’re looking for intelligent life, California probably isn’t the ideal place to start.