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After 20 years of searching for alien life, SETI@Home is shutting down


After more than 20 years of inviting the public to help in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), the distributed computing project SETI@Home is shutting down.

“Scientifically, we’re at the point of diminishing returns; basically, we’ve analyzed all the data we need for now,” the project coordinators said in a statement on the website. Secondly, they went on to say, “It’s a lot of work for us to manage the distributed processing of data. We need to focus on completing the back-end analysis of the results we already have, and writing this up in a scientific journal paper.”

A lasting legacy

The SETI@Home project never did find any evidence of alien life, but it still leaves behind an important legacy as one of the first and most successful examples of distributed computing. Initially, the project intended to try to reach up to 100,000 home computer users, but it was far more widely used than was originally imagined.

Since it was released to the public in May 1999, over 5 million people have participated in the project. It was one of the pioneers of distributed computing, in which volunteers donate processor cycles to allow complex problems to be solved through the use of thousands of computers. Similar projects have sprung up for various functions in recent years, including the popular Folding@Home project which focuses on disease research and which could help fight the current coronavirus outbreak.

The data analyzed through SETI@Home includes observational data from the Arecibo radio telescope and the Green Bank Telescope, including data from the Breakthrough Listen project. The data was collected “passively” while the telescopes worked on other scientific projects, then SETI@Home used volunteer computer power to analyze it for signals which could indicate the presence of life.

With the project winding down, the organizers say they are considering using the resources for other projects in cosmology and pulsar research in the future. The project will stop distributing work in several weeks’ time, on March 31, 2020.

“We’re extremely grateful to all of our volunteers for supporting us in many ways during the past 20 years,” the SETI@Home organizers wrote. “Without you, there would be no SETI@home. We’re excited to finish up our original science project, and we look forward to what comes next.”

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