Fig. 1: The "Gregorian focus" of the Arecibo telescope can focus acutely on the radio signals. This dome is one of two antennae systems in Arecibo. (c)2000 SETI@Home
Many people believe that
there are other intelligent life forms in our universe. Scientists have considered
the different ways that these extraterrestrials could contact us, and now believe
that the easiest way for them to try to contact us would be via electronic signals.
Most scientists also agree that radio waves would be the simplest, most efficient
way for extraterrestrials to contact us. This is because some radio wave frequencies
do not require a lot of power, and, if energy was concentrated in one frequency,
it could easily be distinguished from other frequencies or "background noise,"
that humans toss into space with television and radio broadcasts. However, there
was no way to know for certain if these theories were true; using traditional
methods to examine the sky for waves and processing the data would be extremely
difficult. Even using computers would not work, as supercomputers would be fast
enough to process data yet too expensive, and smaller computers would be cheap
enough to buy yet too slow. (Hipschman) These problems remained unsolved until
SETI@home was created.
The Search for Extraterrestrial
Intelligence program, also known as SETI, was developed in 1984 by the SETI
Institute of University of California Berkeley to conduct scientific research
about the universe and possible life forms. Most of their research was done
using traditional telescope methods. SETI@home was conceived 11 years later
when the SETI team discovered that, for a search the magnitude of the universe,
they'd need a lot of computing power. The UC Berkeley SETI team considered the
Internet, and all the computers that sit idle "with toasters flying across their
screens." (Hipschman) The idea behind SETI@home was to have Internet users help
the team process telescope data in a much quicker, less expensive way.
The creators of SETI@home,
David Gedye and Craig Kasnoff, formed a project team and offered this idea to
the 5th International Conference in Bioastronomy in July 1996. There it was
widely supported, and the team decided to forge ahead. For the next few years
the SETI team devoted their time to project funding and creating the client
and server software, with project director David Anderson in charge. Finally,
on May 17, 1999, the SETI@home website officially opened to the public. User
response was huge, with over 100,000 users showing interest before the site
was open. There are currently over two million CPUs running SETI@home software.
According to Dr. Jill Tarter, a SETI scientist, the program was so popular that
SETI@home's hardware had to "be upgraded the moment it was turned on!" ("Jill Tarter...")
Fig. 2: A view of the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico. (Courtesy of Tony Acevedo/NAIC)
©2000 Team DC (Thinkquest Team C007645). Hosted by ThinkQuest.