If ET Calls, Will You be Listening?

May 13, 1999

Susan Lendroth
The Planetary Society

PASADENA, CA: Three years in the making, SETI@home--a free screensaver that analyzes data from the scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence--willbe available on-line for the general public on May 17, 1999. Developed at University of California, Berkeley, and sponsored by the Planetary Society, the SETI@home project will allow ordinary citizens worldwide the chance to actually participate in the search for intelligent life elsewhere in our galaxy.

Louis Friedman, Executive Director of the Planetary Society, said, “With SETI@home, anyone, anywhere could be the person who helps discover intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. This is a grand experiment in science, in technology and in society--and a global cooperative effort at the frontiers of knowledge.”

SETI@home is an innovative screen-saver program that will harness the spare computing power of hundreds of thousands of Internet-connected personal computers around the world to crunch data from the radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

SETI@home is led by David Anderson, a Visiting Scientist at UC Berkeley, and by Dan Werthimer, director of UC Berkeley’s SERENDIP SETI program. The project was conceived by computer scientist David Gedye. “SETI@home is a way of harnessing all the idle computers to increase our computing capacity and our chance of finding extraterrestrials,” Werthimer said.

The project’s initial funding came from the Planetary Society. Other sponsors include the University of California Berkeley, Sun Microsystems, Fujifilm Computer Products, and Informix. Paramount Pictures provided funding to the Planetary Society for this project in connection with the opening of the movie, Star Trek: Insurrection.

SETI@home will tap into the enormous power of hundreds of thousands of personal computers. 400,000 people have already signed up to receive the screensaver program once it becomes available. They range from young students to retirees, and from professional engineers to newcomers to the Internet.

In the grand scheme of data crunching, SETI@home’s creators think the program has the potential to change the manner in which SETI data are evaluated. By the time 50,000 to 100,000 PCs are involved, the scope of the search will rival other current SETI projects. SETI@home may indeed detect a signal that would otherwise be missed.

SETI@home imports SETI data from the Internet and then processes it whenever the computer is idle. After a batch of data is completely processed, the computer will send it back and get a new chunk of data the next time the user logs into the Internet.

Any interesting signal is marked in the automatic processing and will be later analyzed at the main computer site by the project scientists. If that signal were determined to be a candidate for extraterrestrial intelligence, it would then have to be analyzed and confirmed by independent data from other sources before a positive identification could be made.

If such a signal is found using the SETI@home program, the person whose computer crunched that vital bit of data will go down in history as helping to forever alter humanity’s view of our place in the universe.

The screensaver program will show, in real time, the analysis taking place on each individual computer and will explain the significance of each result. In addition, participants can view maps showing where the SETI@home project is searching and who is taking part in the project.

To sign up, participants should go to one of the following two web sites: The Planetary Society at http://planetary.org or the SETI@home site at http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu.

Editor’s Notes:

Contact David Anderson at 510-649-4708 or Dan Werthimer at 510-642-6997. Paramount Pictures is part of the entertainment operations of Viacom Inc.

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