SETI

Project SETI Certificate - click image for larger view
Project SETI Certificate

I’ve been participating in Project SETI since 2003, when I joined the Cloudy Nights SETI team.

It’s not so much that I expect to be the first to detect signals from ET. In fact, as I’ve often joked, I’d rather that you detect them first, because then I get to stay at home and smoke my pipe, while you get to cope with the demands of the media.

What are the odds? We’ve only been listening for a few decades, hoping to detect coherent signals of any sort rising above the cosmic background noise. If we ever do detect a “signal”, the civilization that sent it might not even be around.  Listening searches might be confined to local areas of interest, such as the Orion Nebula (1500 light years). Mighty “sister galaxy” Andromeda, on the other hand, is some 2.5 million light years distant.

2.5 million years ago, genus Homo was just emerging onto the African savannah. Crude stone tools were appearing. Modern mankind’s been around all of some 40,000 years, but capable of sending a signal into outer space for about 1/800 of that time. If we responded immediately to a signal from Andromeda, that receiving civilization would have to survive another 2.5 million years to hear our signal response (assuming we could beam it tightly enough to get it there). You and I would never have a clue . If our own civilization survives that long, presumably we’d have figured out worm-holes and hyperdrives, and could quickly overtake our own radio waves beamed back to Andromeda.

For me, it’s a chance to exercise the machines, “compete” against other SETI teams, and participate in one of the biggest distributed computing exercises on the planet.

I leave a couple of my fastest machines on almost all the time, but I use those two frequently anyway. I have an older AMD 3800+ machine I turn on once in a while. It uses a lot of energy for a lot fewer “mips” – I admit to having used it as a space heater in the winter. 

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