Looking for extra-terrestrial life is not usually associated with big data analytics and IBM technology, and is usually left to enthusiastic stargazers and people who may have been in the Mojave desert for too long.
But the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute begs to differ. SETI was showcased as an IBM customer at the company's Insight 2015 conference in Las Vegas, and makes use of IBM's Cloud Data Services and Apache Spark to analyse huge amounts of data harvested from the Allen Telescope Array in California.
SETI's goal is to find obvious narrow-band aspects of radio signals that differ from background astrophysical and human signals.
Dr Jill Tarter, holder of the Bernard Oliver Chair at SETI, said that four years of listening to signals has resulted in a collection of 100 million signals and a vast amount of raw data on the frequencies to which they relate.
This has given SETI a large database of signals that it has identified as interference from humans and non-alien sources.
SETI uses a combination of analytical resources in IBM's Cloud Data Services portfolio and Apache Spark to query this data and determine whether SETI may have missed something in the recorded interference.
The institute also uses this combination of cloud-based analytics and in-memory framework to find faster ways to diagnose signals.
"Capabilities like Apache Spark are opening up these previously unexplored data sets. We want to do what we've been doing faster and we want to do things that we didn't know we could or should do. Ultimately, we want to be able to analyse that overwhelming fire hose of data flowing from antennas. We want to listen better. We want to really find a signal," said Tarter.
So while such data processing and analytics tools have been championed as a way for enterprises to derive business-boosting information from data, they could also help discover whether humanity is alone in the universe. After all, the truth is out there.
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