If you ever wondered just what it takes to look for aliens, then prepare to get informed. Sure, you might imagine it doesn't take much more than hooking up a load of computers to form a gigantic zombie network which, for a change, does not use spare CPU cycles to send spam. Indeed, the SETI@home project has been doing this for years by listening to space and scanning what it hears for signs of alien life.
This past year, the SETI@home team has been working hard on the Astropulse application which searches the collected data for high power pulses. Many belive that this methodology could well be a much more efficient technique for your average extraterrestrial to transmit signals. The downside of Astropulse, however, is that it consumes significantly more CPU cycles in order to do what it does. Which means that SETI is looking for more volunteers to donate their spare computer resources to the networked search. Volunteer efforts are better used by applying the new and improved Near Time Persistency Checker (NTPCKR) to sift through potential signals returned and prioritise those which are most likely to be of an extraterrestrial origin.
So what is the true cost of searching for alien life then? Well, according to SETI@home it is USD $548,200 more than they have available. That is the amount the project says it needs in order to continue the effort during 2009. "With more funds we hope to hire an additional person to maintain the servers and web site" says Dan Werthimer, SETI@home Chief Scientist at the Space Science Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley who added "This would free our existing researchers to work more on the science of SETI@home and increase our chances of finding an extraterrestrial signal, and less on keeping our servers operational."
I wish them luck, of course, but in times of economic crisis when the credit crunch is causing us all to tighten our budgetary belts just to maintain some semblance of normality in our lives, the likelihood of finding a bit extra to give to someone to go look for aliens is, well, the stuff of science fiction.