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Quest for cosmic communication widens

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The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute unveiled a Web site this week, called SetiQuest.org, which allows the public to get involved in searching the universe for intelligent communication from other civilisations.

According to the institute, this project has been a huge challenge, and something it has been working towards for the past 25 years. Of all scientific explorations, it seems obvious that SETI should be global and involve all humanity, says the institute.

It adds that this will lead to a significant improvement in its ability to search for other intelligent civilisations in the cosmos.

“The detection of another technological civilisation will recalibrate our place in the cosmos, recalibrate who we are, and potentially trivialise the differences among human 'earthlings', thereby extending our future longevity,” it says.

“The public can participate as software developers, signal detection algorithm developers, or citizen scientists.”

Open source for space

Jill Tarter, director for SETI Research, says the Web site will make vast amounts of SETI data available to the public for the first time. It will also publish the SETI Institute's signal-detection algorithm as open source code, inviting expert coders and amateur techies to make it even better.

“Until now, real-time SETI observations have relied on custom-built hardware. Server technologies have now gotten fast enough to allow us to run on commodity clusters,” she says.

“With available cloud storage and processing resources, we can provide digital signal processing experts and students with a lot of raw data from the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) and invite them to develop new algorithms that can find other types of signals that we are now missing,” Tarter explains.

“We will take the best of those algorithms and work with the designer and the OS developers to make them run in real-time so we can add them to our observational quiver,” she points out.

Those without coding or algorithmic skills can get involved by helping to find anomalous patterns in data coming from the ATA, says the institute.

The SETI project was spearheaded by Frank Drake, who conducted the first scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence. According to the institute, since then, scientists from many countries have conducted more than 100 projects looking for communication signals from other civilisations.

With the spread of the Internet in the 21st century, it is now possible for people around the globe to participate in this new SETI programme, the institute notes.

The SETI Institute says it plans to start hosting code in the second quarter of 2010.

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