500,000th Computing Year For SETI Project - InformationWeek

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500,000th Computing Year For SETI Project

The past few weeks have seen many remarkable events as we finally elected a president and saw record losses on the stock market. Lost in the tumult was news that scientists looking for life in outer space had crossed a major computing milestone. The [email protected] project, which is the massively distributed computing project searching for extraterrestrial radio signals, completed its 500,000th computing year.

SETI, short for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, analyzes radio signals from outer space for signs of alien signals, and the [email protected] project uses PCs to do the processing. Users install the software on their home or work computers, where it downloads data collected by the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico, performs a mathematical analysis, and sends the results back for processing. On desktop computers, the program works as a screensaver or in the background, exploiting the computer's processing power when its owner isn't.

Using this technique, [email protected] is able to marshal the power of hundreds of thousands of PCs, processing more information than any supercomputer. The world's most powerful computer, IBM's ASCI White, runs at a speed of 12 teraflops, or 12 trillion floating point operations per second, and costs $110 million. In contrast, the [email protected] project runs at about 15 teraflops and has cost only $500,000 so far.

With 2.6 million users participating, the project has analyzed more than 253 million work units, at an average of 17 hours of CPU time per unit. While they haven't found conclusive evidence of intelligence, astronomers involved in the project say there are many signals that may prove to be extraterrestrial in origin once they have been carefully analyzed. Details about the program can be found at http://update.informationweek.com/cgi-bin4/flo?y=eBpj0Bej8R0V20CPM8

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