Home computers can hunt for ET

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The Independent Online
ANYONE WITH a home computer can play a part in an ambitious project to find out whether there is intelligent life in outer space.

Scientists searching for signs of extraterrestrial activity will offer software on Monday to owners of home computers who will then be able to search for radio signals from other planets.

They will be able to download a special screen-saver over the Internet enabling analysis of chunks of unprocessed data from one of the world's biggest radio telescopes. The aim is to use millions of home computers to crunch billions of numbers on a massive scale but with minimum cost.

When a computer is idle the screensaver starts working its way through data received over the Internet from the giant radio telescope at Arecibo in Puerto Rico, which is monitoring the ether for unusual radio signals as part of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). The screensaver, called SETI@home, will be available free, allowing anyone with a home computer to join the search for ET.

"SETI@home is a way of harnessing all the idle computers to increase our computing capacity and our chance of finding extraterrestials," said Dan Werthimer, director of the project at the University of California at Berkeley. The university has already signed 400,000 people. With a quarter of the computers online, the search power will equal any single research effort in SETI.