Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Scientists to do focused search for E.T. on 150 stars

Idle computers aid powerful radio telescope in Puerto Rico in the search for extraterrestrial life

When 4 million computers doze, they dream of aliens.

A group of scientists is visiting the giant Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico this week to take another stab at finding intelligent alien life. They will look at the top 150 promising stars.

And they're going armed with data from 4 million computers from 226 countries around the world.

In 1999, SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, established the SETI@home program, where people could sign up for a screen saver that would analyze data from Arecibo Observatory and send it back to SETI officials at the University of California at Berkeley.

Berkeley physicist Dan Werthimer, SETI@home chief scientist, said with that many computers working on the same task, they are essentially the biggest computer on the planet.
While computers did the initial sorting down from 5 billion candidate signals, five humans at Berkeley made the final cut.

In order to be picked for this list, the target had to actually be a star. The group also looked at the strength of the radio frequency, whether it repeated or if it was a frequency they'd seen before from Earth-orbiting satellites.

In Puerto Rico, astronomers began observing the 150 targets on Tuesday and will continue to search for radio signals that might come from intelligent life on other planets through Thursday.

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