Computers can help find life in outer space

January 3, 2008 5:19:40 AM PST
Technological advances have presented an interesting problem for astronomers. They're swamped with data, so they need your help to searching for intelligent life.

The search for intelligent life in the universe is elusive, technical and now awash in data.

"If you look at speed of our search in which we are checking out the cosmos for signals, it follows something called Morse Law, and a lot of people here in the Silicon Valley know Morse law; it means that every 18 months, the amount of compute power you can buy doubles per dollar. That's been true for 20 years and its going to be true for another 20 years. The speed and search for ET signals doubles in speed every 18 months," said Seti Institute astronomer Seth Shostak.

The 'Study At Home Project' at UC Berkeley is feeling the glut. Their telescope in Puerto Rico generates 70-million numbers a second.

Those numbers get shipped back to Berkeley, and Berkeley has recruited nearly 200,000 volunteers to download the Seti screen saver. While they sleep their home computers crunch two million numbers down to just ten or 20.

"It buys us a lot of free computing time when people aren't normally using their computers we get lots of free computing," said UC Berkeley astronomer Eric Korpela.

Downloading the program doesn't cost anything, and it uses about eight megabytes of disk space.

"We divide the data into little pieces so you get one piece, another person gets another piece, everyone gets a different part of the sky and combines the volunteers that build our planets largest super computers," said UC Berkeley astronomer Dan Werthimer.

There are only about a dozen astronomers looking for intelligent life in the universe. The Seti project in Mountain View has a benefactor in Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who put up 25 million dollars to help finance their array in Lassen, California.

Those searching for Intel life have also gotten wind in their sales from the discovery of new earth size planets.

"I think the general public is becoming aware of the fact that routinely scientists find other planets around other stars now, something that we didn't even know about a dozen years ago," said Shostak.

So far those planets aren't saying anything or at least we haven't picked it up yet.