Space photo

Over the past decade, those who wished to contribute to SETI’s mission of locating life elsewhere in the universe could leave their computers on running a special screensaver and donate their unused computing power to the cause. Now, SETI director Jill Tarter is asking people around the globe to get more involved in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence by opening up SETI’s servers to the public calling for a worldwide, open source contribution to the search.

Tarter says:

In the future, we hope that a global army of open-source code developers, students and other experts in digital signal processing, as well as citizen scientists willing to lend their intelligence to our exploration, will have access to the same technology and join our quest.

SETI’s data, compiled from 25 years of scanning the skies with advanced astronomical telescopes, will be made available on a special SETI website this summer, at which point users can take whatever data sets they wish and comb through them looking for patterns or noise that SETI’s algorithms may have overlooked. The site is currently configured for those with some kind of background in signal processing and the like, but SETI is working to make it more accessible to users of all backgrounds and ages.

Whether or not this shift represents frustration within SETI or simply a change in tactics befitting of the time, it vastly increases the raw brainpower that the organization has at its disposal, and that can’t be bad for an organization that has a lot of universe to cover. In Tarter’s words, “all of the SETI searching over the past 50 years is equivalent to examining one 8-ounce glass of water from the Earth’s oceans.” Maybe this change in policy will tip the scales ever so slightly in our favor.