SETI@home, a Planetary Society and Cosmos Studios-sponsored search for extraterrestrial intelligence, will gain its 3 millionth participant by next week -- just in time for its second birthday. They will celebrate by awarding a prize to the three-millionth user to run the SETI@home program.
The largest distributed computing experiment ever undertaken, this University of California, Berkeley project uses a computer program that analyzes scientific data while acting as a screen-saver on personal computers.
"Three million users in such a short time testifies to both the public interest in the search for extraterrestrial life and the desire for public involvement in real science," said Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society.
SETI@home went on-line May 17, 1999 to wide acclaim and worldwide attention. For the first time, ordinary citizens anywhere could actually participate in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
SETI@home harnesses the spare computing power of nearly three million Internet-connected personal computers around the world to crunch data from the radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico. To date, SETI@home participants have collectively logged 650 millennia of computer time -- by far the largest computation ever performed.
"Soon there will be a billion computers on the Internet," said David P. Anderson, Director of SETI@home. "SETI@home has triggered an avalanche of new ideas about how to harness this resource for scientific computing and other purposes."
The SETI@home team anticipates that the three millionth participant will run the SETI@home software sometime next week. That person will be awarded a lifetime membership in The Planetary Society, a DVD copy of Carl Sagan's series COSMOS from Cosmos Studios, and a stunning SETI poster autographed by Anderson and by Dan Werthimer, SETI@home's Chief Scientist.
SETI@home was conceived by computer scientist David Gedye, along with Craig Kasnoff and astronomer Woody Sullivan. The project's start-up funding came from The Planetary Society, and Cosmos Studios has now joined with the Society in continuing SETI@home sponsorship. Other sponsors include the University of California; Sun Microsystems; Fujifilm Computer Products; Quantum Corp.; and Paramount Pictures, which provided partial funding to The Planetary Society for this project.
SETI@home was designed to tap into the enormous power of hundreds of thousands of personal computers. Initial estimates for participation were pegged at 200,000 to 300,000 people. Sign-ups proved to be 10 times that number and are still rising, with an average of 2,000 new participants joining each day. SETI@home users represent a wide cross-section of the public and log in from 226 different countries.
So why do people all over the world join the SETI@home project?
"Seti@home is the great cosmic lottery," said Ann Druyan, CEO of Cosmos Studios. "It's a chance for any one of us to find the answer to the question at the heart of our dawning cosmic awareness. It turns each of us into the potential discoverer of the first extraterrestrial civilization. A global community, already three million strong, attests to the massive appeal of such an opportunity."
SETI@home is one of six projects in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence supported by The Planetary Society -- the world's largest space interest group, and longest running funder of SETI projects on Earth.