GCN LAB IMPRESSIONS

E.T. phone me: Join the search for alien life

Advances in computing technology have made it possible for anyone with a PC to listen for signals from the stars.

For years the SETI program (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has been looking for life among the stars. Technology has made it possible so that very soon, everyone will be able to join in on that quest. Who knows, if you personally discover an alien civilization, you might even get to name it (for our Earth-bound reference anyway).

In some science fiction stories, the aliens are out there, just beyond our perception, listening to all of our radio and television broadcasts. And if they tune into some of the sitcoms on TV, I’m sure they will probably decide to stay well away from our crazy planet. I bet they enjoy tapping their spindly fingers along with “Glee,” however.

The SETI program works in the reverse direction. Powerful radio telescopes scan the stars, listening for any evidence of broadcasts made by alien life. Theoretically these could be sent accidentally from a planet, much like Earthlings do all the time now in the course of a day. The signals might also be communications between ships traveling in space. There’s also the possibility that transmissions we eventually intercept could be directed into the universe to get our attention. And the SETI program is a private endeavor, so no tax money is going toward the program, for those of you who think it’s a waste of money.

Recently the prestigious TED prize (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) was awarded to Jill Tarter of the SETI institute. And she had some very interesting things to say about the future of the SETI program. The biggest is that, very soon, everyone can become a SETI researcher.

In the beginning, the entire SETI program was run from custom-built hardware. A few years ago, it expanded to include home computers, which have become fast enough to handle a slice of the load, scanning thousands of hours of recordings to try to find repeating patterns or obvious signs of language. The off-the-shelf hardware actually does a better job than the clunky systems of the past. You can lend a hand in that effort right now with the SETI home program. This involves setting up your computer to automatically download and analyze radio telescope data. Just imagine if your computer was the one to discover alien life — your system would be famous.

And very soon, you can listen to the sounds of the cosmos yourself. All of the data from the SETI program, according to Tarter, will soon be available at setiQuest.org to download or play. The site is not quite up yet, but you can bet it will be one of my favorite destinations once it goes live. Having humans listen for repeating patterns or language might be even more efficient (or more accurate) than having computers do it.

In these ways, everyone can help search for intelligent life outside of our own little blue world. And if we ever find it, without a doubt, it would be the greatest discovery man has ever made.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

Reader Comments

Fri, Apr 30, 2010 TvM Haiku

@Damien Blanco; I dare you to say that to Stephen Hawking's face, he'll get you in a cross-face chicken wing then finish you off with a flying plancha

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 Damien Blanco FL

@TVM Hawking's opinion is not more or less valid than any other scientist's. Since we have never detected any intelligent life in the universe, it is IMPOSSIBLE to say with any amount of certainty how they will look, behave, and/or think.

Mon, Apr 26, 2010 TVM Haiku

Stephen Hawing just said that contacting aliens is against our best interests, so please pull the plug on this bogus operation - YOU ARE ENDANGERING THE ENTIRE HUMAN RACE

Sun, Apr 25, 2010 Harold NC

Regarding my last post... here is someone else with the same views I have written about (some years ago) on this topic... http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/21/books/21book.html

Sun, Apr 25, 2010 Harold NC

Just a thought? It's been widely accepted that we (Humans) are very anthropocentric in nature. We tend to view "everything" as "we" understand it from our perspective... and for some reason... we (most of us) are not able to humble ourselves enough to realize we just may not know (or have figured out) hidden secrets that our science, physics and other research has not quite discovered as yet (just look at our history of being positive at one point about something... and finding out we were completely wrong... and how long it took to accept the new "reality") The SETI effort is one example. Here we are... with an array of "radio" telescopes searching the heavens for a "signal". Now I ask you... do you really think that an advanced intelligence, able to traverse distances with technology that allows the elimination of time and space as a hindrance... do you really think they would be using early 20th century (Human) technology to contact another civilization??? (I use the term "civilization" with a pinch of star-dust as far as we are concerned)! That would be the equivalent of a downed pilot, a few thousand miles from anyone or anything... and using "smoke signals" to try and contact the nearest intelligent life! I'm sorry... but I know we are not alone... and many other "powers that be" also know this (you might be surprised but this includes SETI)... However... imagine what would happen should SETI admit to this (or eventually announce they actually picked up a signal that proves ET's Existence)... All of a sudden, the entire "Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence" would no longer be needed... Hence... all the Government funding and grants and support would be pulled and their service rendered unneeded (obsolete if you will). Everyone needs to realize that this reality is riddled with numerous different (Human) agendas and political concerns. The ramifications and implications of this reality and the technology that could (and has been) gleaned from this is staggering. This is not a subject that we can simply rely on what we see on the Discovery Channel or our news and media... people need to become a little more pro-active and do their own due-diligence in this regard. I appreciate the effort that the editor has put into this article... and for those that have not fully explored this reality... they are left with what they learn passively... and they believe that the source is accurate and then pass it along... Again... do your own due-diligence. I've found the most efficient way to do this is to check at least 3 independent sources... most times this will either reveal that the topic is correct... OR... more than likely you will run into one source that contradicts or corrects the source story. At any rate... I also try to use common sense in my research and I thank you for all your time and I hope some (or all) of what I've had to say makes some sense to Ya'll... Thank You, Harold

Show All Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above