April 19th, 2010
09:50 PM ET

Help wanted: Searching the universe

It's an effort astronomers liken to "listening to one hundred million radios, each tuned to a different channel." It's the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and it's no simple task.

That’s why Dr. Jill Tarter, director of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), is asking for help from the rest of the global scientific community in her quest. Tarter and SETI are planning to release astronomical radio telescope data to astronomers and researchers all over the world for analysis, according to a statement released Monday.

Tarter has devoted her career to searching for signs of intelligent life elsewhere in our universe. In 2009, she was awarded a TED Prize for her wish to give the rest of the planet the opportunity to "become active participants in the ultimate search for cosmic company."

She used the benefits of her prize to form "setiQuest," the program that will make data collected by SETI available to those who request it.

SETI records radio signals from space using a series of radio telescopes called the "Allen Telescope Array," named after Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft and financier of the project.

In an attempt to narrow their search, SETI astronomers have been focusing on searching for what are called narrowband signals. But opening up the data to other researchers could mean the development of new methods that could analyze broadband signals.

In the past, SETI Institute would process and analyze data in real time and discard the data shortly after. Now, the plan is to provide a day's worth of collected data each week and make the information available for analysis and review for up to six months through its website.

Tuesday on CNN.com, hear Tarter talk about her team's quest searching for intelligence beyond our world.

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soundoff (100 Responses)
  1. RicktheBrick

    Using the density of stars within 15 parsecs of earth, we calculate how many stars there are within 75 light years from earth, we find out that there are probably less than a thousand stars within 75 light years from earth. This will give any civilization that detects our radio signals enough time to respond to them and for us to detect the return signal. Now lets go to a hundred light years from earth. At that distant anyone who detected our signals would not have enough time for a return signal to reach earth. The best we can hope for is a signal from someone who is searching for an advance civilization since I would hope that we would have detected any signal from a planet within 75 light years from earth by now. The best that we can hope for is for a signal that we can prove that it is not natural. We will probably not have a clue as to what it says and it will take centuries for us to respond and hope for a response from our response. The best we can hope for is just prove of someone else existence. We will probably not get any useful information from it for at least several decades into the future.

    April 21, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Trace

    Did anyone notice a huge leap in technology for humanity between the end of 1950 and the beginning of 2000? It seems that up until that time , for at least a few hundred if not more years, we were quite happy with the horse as a way of transport, Boats to take us across the oceans, Silver oxide plates to take still photography, etc... And then suddenly, something falls from the sky (Supposedly) in New Mexico...The US calls it a weather balloon and almost overnight we have transistors and PCB's and LCD.. Fiber Optics...I could go on and on.. this all happened within the past 50 years of human evolution...

    So to say that there is not another "Life Form" out there in the galaxy is rather mundane given the fact's hidden still in government files and the explosion of technology that occured directly after the fact.

    April 23, 2010 at 2:29 am | Report abuse |
  3. Jim

    So basically you (the moderator) just pick and choose which comments you want to post to make this article look semi-intelligent?

    April 24, 2010 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Charles

    The leaps of technological advancements over the past 60 years can be easily contributed to such events as WWII, the Cold War and the advent of the Space Industry as well as a combination of other highly debatable, horrible and terrifying events that have tested human ingenuity along the way. The conspiracy theories here are truly disturbing and saddening as some people have completely demeaned our history as a creative and competitive species with these outlandish notions. As for those who think solving poverty, war and violence would usher in an era of utopia. What kind of world would that be? Our competitive edge and awareness of limitation is what drives us! If you want to make the world a better place, start with your neighbor. Perhaps start by not cutting me off driving on the highway! Or, wave to your neighbor when you see him or her in the morning and wish them a good day at work. No amount of money is going to fix the basics. Sociology just like Astronomy has to start off with a small baby step somewhere. The world has gone mad with crazies.

    As for SETI, I support it fully. To fully understand ourselves we have to understand our nature and universe. We are just the fish in the pond. Imagine what could be learned about ourselves by discovering what exists above the water's horizon. A fish sees himself as himself, but fisherman sees him as a fish.

    April 25, 2010 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
  5. Prakash.P.V

    Instead of waiting for a radio signal from planets, better we search for objects in outer space that are moving and perhaps emitting some kind of signals other than radio. They may be in search for plantes like us! Also, the "space junks" are to be evaluated carefully to see whether these were actually some kind of space ships or parts there of.

    April 26, 2010 at 4:33 am | Report abuse |
  6. fuzzy

    It's funny how most people view the idea of alien life as being destructive towards humanity. Look at Hollywood. 90% of alien type films portray aliens as being evil. What happens when aliens arrive, extending their hands in friendship, only to have them cut off? We have to accept the possibility that aliens are benevelent and are here to help us as humans. If I'm wrong and aliens end up eating or brains and turning our cities to rubble, then so be it. I offer the olive branch.

    April 27, 2010 at 1:27 am | Report abuse |
  7. Gary K.Grabert

    Written on April 19th, 11:43 p.m.- the greatest tragedy is that we actually spend money on such foolish endeavors as this. Humanity as poverty, war, famine, discrimination happening now in the present and we have people who devote time to these things when we should be focusing on ending the latter and once we have done that, than by all means go cosmic. I write- It is foolish to look at it in that fashion since we, as a race of humans, will never-ever be "done" with such human clamities so that means we will never "go comic"? That's rediculas and so are you. We are becoming so capable. Why sit in the trees?

    April 27, 2010 at 4:48 am | Report abuse |
  8. Takerna

    RE: #82 April 20th, 2010 4:00 pm ET – Not to be a nitpicker...okay, to be a nitpicker...there is only one solar system in the universe, that system being ours, with the star being Sol. All the other planet-containing systems are called 'star systems' until their star is named. Like, if the star is named Bluto, then the star system becomes the Bluto System. Or the Blutoar System. Something like that.
    I think it was either Asimov or Clarke that was always so adamant about naming. (Not about Bluto, but you get the drift....)

    April 28, 2010 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  9. Lynn

    I am not a scientist and never intended to experience any close encounters,

    I know there are other life forms in our solar system and have no doubt that we're not alone in it. For those who have not seen any extra terrestrial events it's hard to fathom they exist. I can assure you they are here, myself and my family have seen them, they have been at our cottage in Ontario Canada in the last 5 years on a regular basis, not sure why but they seem to hover over the water which is very shallow rapids and I've noticed that much of the rock (including huge bolders) have moved somewhat substantially. They come in different forms, some saucer shaped with colored lights around the edges and another, huge, covered with white lights with a circular strobe around it, very bright and others a strange plane like shape with a huge headlight...we can sometimes hear them overhead in daylight and see them mostly at night.

    They've gotten pretty close at times and some encounters have been a little scary for my daughter and her friends... nobody sleeps in a tent any more, put it that way.

    Good luck, I hope you can experience what I have, it has definitely changed my way of thinking, forever.


    May 3, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
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