June 29, 2014
NOT even soaring electricity costs can stop Australia’s most enthusiastic alien hunters.Almost 1.5 million people worldwide contribute to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence through SETI@Home, allowing personal computers and devices to analyse radio signals from space while they are idle.
SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, originated in the 1960s, when a group of radio astronomers began to search the skies for intelligent life outside Earth.
Australia’s Parkes radio telescope became an important part of the search in the mid 1990s and now 34,000 Aussie enthusiasts are among the most dedicated to the search. In SETI rankings, we currently sit 6th in the world — just behind Japan and ahead of the French.
Dr David Anderson, director of SETI@Home with Berkeley University, said many of their members have been involved in the project for over 10 years and are enthusiastic about the possibilities.
“Current we’re logging about 2.5 billion computer hours per year total, and about 85 million by Australian volunteers,” he said.
Aussies have dedicated 1.3 billion computer hours in the 15 years the SETI project has been running and one of those dedicated locals is Simon Wong from Sydney, Australia’s leading individual contributor.
Ranked 11th in individual standings, Mr Wong is contributing an estimated 1.4 million computational hours a year.
“I do have multiple systems involved, including desktops, laptops, plus systems I’ve put together for my brother who’s happy to contribute to SETI@Home under my name,” Mr Wong said.
“I don’t mind that I seem to be getting higher in the contribution rankings.”
Mr Wong believes in the possibility of life outside Earth, but his interest lies more in the science behind the SETI@Home project.
“I’m primarily interested in helping this Berkeley-driven project from a software engineering or scientific point of view,” he said. “How can we best process this mass of radio signal data efficiently and cost-effectively?”
But internationally, competition can be a driving force.
“The competitiveness is much more prevalent overseas, especially in the US, where computer hardware is cheaper and electricity rates are low,” Mr Wong said.
“There are people who build computers specifically for maximise their processing potential for SETI@Home.”
Giles Averay-Jones, also known as Dingo, is the founder of Australia’s leading contributing team BOINC@Australia. As the Australian branch of the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, his team contributes an estimated 12.4 million computational hours to SETI annually. But rising electricity costs are starting to make it difficult.
“As a team we are at a disadvantage when it comes to electricity charges,” Mr Averay-Jones said.
“The cost is impacting a lot of the team and is a regular topic.”
But that still won’t stop the Aussie search with locals preferring to cut back rather than quit completely.
“It would certainly be an interesting time if strong evidence for extraterrestrial intelligence was discovered through the SETI@Home project,” said Mr Wong.
“And it would be a great honour if it was one of my computers that helped contribute to that!”
Originally published as Australian alien hunters total 34K