Things are on the upswing at SETI according to the organization's Senior Astronomer, Seth Shostak, who appeared on the program Thursday night. To be finished sometime in 2005, will be the Allen Telescope Array which can be used by SETI 24/7, scanning star systems for signals. Containing 350 small antennas, it will be spread out over 2/3 of a mile in Northern California, and free the organization from having to rely solely on waiting for their turn to use the Arecibo radio telescope.
Aside from SETI's mission to discover extraterrestrial transmissions, Shostak offered some interesting commentary on our solar system and beyond. It "was just a cosmic accident that we got the moon, which was probably the result of a mammoth collision. Everybody would have heard about it in the papers except it was 4 billion years ago," he said, theorizing that a rock the size of Mars hit our planet and the ensuing debris formed our moon.
When queried about the possibility of "Planet X" heading into the inner solar system this year, Shostak found it to be highly unlikely, as he believes it would already be visible to the naked eye at this point if it was that close. Of more concern is the possibility we could get slammed by an asteroid. "There are plenty of asteroids that haven't been found," he said. But, "there's no big one with our name on it so far," he added with some reassurance.
Want to contribute to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence? SETI@home lets you (well your computer actually) get into the act. Why, you could even be out having lunch, while your computer running a special screensaver, is contributing useful bits of data to the study. Launched in May of 1999, the program takes advantage of what is called "distributed-computing," which makes use of many separate computers each processing small "work units" which are then sent back to the SETI@home lab at UC Berkeley.
The program is parceling out data gleaned from the huge radio telescope at Arecibo, with the overall intention of detecting signals from outer space that appear to be coming from an intelligent source. Many were skeptical of how useful this group collaboration would be when it first began. But as of May 2002 there were over 3,725,900 signed-up participants whose computers had analyzed a staggering 983,487 years of computer processing time. According to one project director, the contributors are analyzing the same amount of data that it would cost them $300 million of supercomputers to otherwise obtain. While Seti@home is clearly a groundbreaking success in the field of "distributed-computing" one would hope that it might eventually yield an alien radio jingle as well.