Internet users can join in the hunt for aliens from the comfort of their homes, using a new screen saver.
On 17 May the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) will release [email protected], beta software for Windows and Macintosh machines that has been designed to hunt through radio signals beamed at earth for signs of alien intelligence.
[email protected] works by borrowing your PC's processing power when you are not using it. The free software downloads radio data from [email protected]'s central computers at Berkeley in California and then works its way through them checking for anything that is abnormal to the white noise of the universe's background radio transmissions.
When you are not using your PC, the [email protected] screensaver, which is harnessing your PC's processing power, displays graphs of the calculations being crunched.
SETI estimates it will take around five minutes to download the software over a 28.8Kbps modem.
The software connects only when transferring data. This occurs once every few days and also lasts for about five minutes.
"[email protected] is a scientific experiment that will harness the power of hundreds of thousands of Internet connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence," explains a statement on the group's website.
"You can participate by running a program that downloads and analyses radio telescope data. There's a small but captivating possibility that your computer will detect the faint murmur of a civilisation beyond Earth."
More than 400,000 people have already signed up for the experiment and SETI expects many thousands more to sign up in the run up to releasing the beta software. SETI believes that the experiment will create the world's biggest 'virtual' supercomputer, more than 100 times more powerful than the biggest supercomputer.
[email protected] has been gathering raw data since last October from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, which is the world's largest radio telescope, created in the bowl of an extinct volcano.
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