On May 17, 2000, SETI@home, co-sponsored by The Planetary Society and the University of California, Berkeley, achieves two milestones: its first anniversary and having just passed the 2 million participants mark. The largest distributed computing experiment ever undertaken, this innovative project in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) uses a computer program that analyzes scientific data while acting as a screen-saver on personal computers.
Developed at the University of California, Berkeley, 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 intelligent life elsewhere in our galaxy. Within the first three months alone, over 1 million inhabitants of Earth took up the challenge.
SETI@home harnesses the spare computing power of two million Internet-connected personal computers around the world to crunch data from the radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico. To date, SETI@home is the largest distributed computing experiment ever undertaken, and participants have collectively logged 280 millennia worth of computing time.
"Although we knew SETI@home would fit exactly The Planetary Society's mission to involve the public in space exploration," said Charlene Anderson, Associate Director of the Society, "it took a leap of faith to invest in the program because no one had ever before tried to create a distributed computer network of such size, complexity and sophistication. We are amazed and delighted with the results."
The director of the SETI@home project is Dr. David Anderson, and its Chief Scientist is Dan Werthimer, who leads UC Berkeley's SERENDIP SETI program as well. The project 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. Other sponsors include the University of California, Berkeley; Sun Microsystems; Fujifilm Computer Products; Quantum Corp.; and Paramount Pictures provided partial funding to The Planetary Society for this project.
As part of the one year anniversary celebration, SETI@home participants can download a certificate of appreciation from The Planetary Society's website.
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 sector of the public, ranging in age from young students to retirees, and from professional engineers to newcomers to the Internet.
There are even numerous user groups "competing" for the top spot in the number of units of data processed. The top 100 groups include a virtual who's who listing of high tech companies as well as more unusual entries such as tenth place holder, The Knights Who Say Ni!, whose top contributor is Sir CADCAM of the Wooden Rabbit. Members of The Planetary Society can join their own user group -- over 1,100 strong -- that currently resides in 12th place.
Will we ever discover an alien signal with SETI@home -- who knows? The search itself is proving a grand experiment in distributed computing. And how many other screen-savers allow computer users the chance to change human history by possibly discovering that we are not alone in our universe. If a signal is found using the SETI@home program, the owner of the computer that analyzes that vital data will merit a place in the history books as one of the humans who opened the door to an incredible new view of the cosmos.
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.